Legionella pneumophila CsrA is a pivotal repressor of transmission traits and activator of replication

Mol Microbiol. 2003 Oct;50(2):445-61. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2958.2003.03706.x.


Legionella pneumophila can replicate inside amoebae and also alveolar macrophages to cause Legionnaires' Disease in susceptible hosts. When nutrients become limiting, a stringent-like response coordinates the differentiation of L. pneumophila to a transmissive form, a process mediated by the two-component system LetA/S and the sigma factors RpoS and FliA. Here we demonstrate that the broadly conserved RNA binding protein CsrA is a global repressor of L. pneumophila transmission phenotypes and an essential activator of intracellular replication. By analysing csrA expression and the phenotypes of csrA single and double mutants and a strain that expresses csrA constitutively, we demonstrate that, during replication in broth, CsrA represses every post-exponential phase phenotype examined, including cell shape shortening, motility, pigmentation, stress resistance, sodium sensitivity, cytotoxicity and efficient macrophage infection. At the transition to the post-exponential phase, LetA/S relieves CsrA repression to induce transmission phenotypes by both FliA-dependent and -independent pathways. For L. pneumophila to avoid lysosomal degradation in macrophages, CsrA repression must be relieved by LetA/S before phagocytosis; conversely, before intracellular bacteria can replicate, CsrA repression must be restored. The reciprocal regulation of replication and transmission exemplified by CsrA likely enhances the fitness of microbes faced with fluctuating environments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Proteins / physiology*
  • Cell Division
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Flagellin / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Legionella pneumophila / growth & development
  • Legionella pneumophila / metabolism*
  • Luminescent Proteins
  • Macrophages / microbiology*
  • Macrophages / pathology
  • Repressor Proteins / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction / genetics


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • CsrA protein, Legionella pneumophila
  • Luminescent Proteins
  • Repressor Proteins
  • Flagellin
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins