In vivo effect of adhesion inhibitor heparin on Legionella pneumophila pathogenesis in a murine pneumonia model

Intensive Care Med. 2008 Aug;34(8):1511-9. doi: 10.1007/s00134-008-1063-2. Epub 2008 Mar 26.


Objective: To examine the effect of intratracheal heparin instillation on Legionella pneumophila-related acute lung injury (ALI) and systemic dissemination.

Design: Prospective, controlled experimental study.

Setting: University research laboratory.

Interventions: A/J mice received 5 microg of sulfated heparin intratracheally co-instilled with 10(6) or 10(8) colony-forming units (CFU) of a virulent isolate of L. pneumophila.

Measurements and results: ALI was assessed in control groups (PBS and PBS-heparin) and on days 1, 2 and 3 post-infection, in terms of the lung wet-to-dry (W/D) weight ratios and of lung endothelial permeability to radio-labeled albumin (Perm-I(125)). Lung bacterial loads were measured and systemic spread was assessed by blood and target organ culture. The alveolar inflammatory response was evaluated by measuring the cytokine levels (TNF-alpha, IFN-gamma, IL-6 and IL-12p70) in bronchoalveolar lavage fluids (BALF). Co-instilled heparin improved mouse survival after the 10(8) CFU challenge (p < 0.01). On day 2, heparin co-instillation significantly reduced the W/D ratio and Perm-I(125) (p < 0.01 and p < 0.001 respectively), improved lung bacterial clearance (p < 0.001), prevented systemic dissemination (blood, liver, spleen, kidneys and brain cultures, all p < 0.05) and significantly increased IFN-gamma and IL-12p70 levels in BALF (p < 0.05).

Conclusions: Heparin co-instillation during intratracheal L. pneumophila challenge has a protective effect on the alveolar-capillary barrier and prevents bacterial dissemination. These results tend to confirm the competitive inhibition by heparin of L. pneumophila attachment to lung epithelium in vivo, and point to the possible involvement of a heparan-sulfate adhesin in L. pneumophila binding to pneumocytes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acute Lung Injury / metabolism
  • Acute Lung Injury / microbiology
  • Acute Lung Injury / prevention & control*
  • Animals
  • Bronchoalveolar Lavage Fluid / chemistry*
  • Cytokines / metabolism*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Fibrinolytic Agents / pharmacology
  • Fibrinolytic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Heparin / pharmacology
  • Heparin / therapeutic use*
  • Legionella pneumophila / drug effects*
  • Legionella pneumophila / pathogenicity
  • Legionnaires' Disease / metabolism
  • Legionnaires' Disease / prevention & control*
  • Mice


  • Cytokines
  • Fibrinolytic Agents
  • Heparin