Analysis of the genetic diversity of Legionella by sequencing the 23S-5S ribosomal intergenic spacer region: from phylogeny to direct identification of isolates at the species level from clinical specimens

Microbes Infect. 2006 Jan;8(1):73-83. doi: 10.1016/j.micinf.2005.05.022. Epub 2005 Aug 8.


This study focuses on the interest of the hypervariable 23S-5S ribosomal intergenic spacer region (ISR) of the genus Legionella to analyze the phylogenic diversity of Legionella at the species and subspecies levels and to identify isolates directly from clinical specimens. The method, using a real-time PCR assay with a single primer pair followed by sequencing, was able to identify correctly 49 reference strains of Legionella belonging to 37 different species, including those implicated in human infections, and to clearly differentiate the three subspecies of L. pneumophila. Based on sequence similarities, the 23S-5S ISR sequences were much more variable than the rpoB and mip sequences (P<0.0001 by the Wilcoxon signed rank test). The 23S-5S ISR method was able to cluster Legionella species in accordance with phenotypic traits, such as autofluorescence or fatty acid membrane composition. Using maximum parsimony methods, the rpoB and 23S-5S ISR data sets were shown to be incongruent (P<0.001). In contrast, the 23S-5S ISR and the mip data sets were found to be congruent (P=0.313), suggesting the interest of combining these two regions to demonstrate phylogenetic links between Legionella species. This molecular assay was shown able to both detect Legionella DNA directly in respiratory specimens from patients exhibiting a Legionella infection and provide accurate identification of the bacterium at the species level in the tested specimens. These properties open a wide range of applications to the 23S-5S ISR sequencing method, from taxonomic analyses to clinical and epidemiological investigations.

MeSH terms

  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • DNA, Ribosomal Spacer / genetics*
  • Genetic Variation / genetics*
  • Legionella / classification*
  • Legionella / genetics*
  • Legionella / isolation & purification
  • Phenotype
  • Phylogeny*
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 23S / genetics*
  • Species Specificity


  • DNA, Bacterial
  • DNA, Ribosomal Spacer
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 23S