Legionella pneumophila couples fatty acid flux to microbial differentiation and virulence

Mol Microbiol. 2009 Mar;71(5):1190-1204. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2958.2008.06593.x.


During its life cycle, Legionella pneumophila alternates between at least two phenotypes: a resilient, infectious form equipped for transmission and a replicative cell type that grows in amoebae and macrophages. Considering its versatility, we postulated that multiple cues regulate L. pneumophila differentiation. Beginning with a Biolog Phenotype MicroArray screen, we demonstrate that excess short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) trigger replicative cells to cease growth and activate their panel of transmissive traits. To co-ordinate their response to SCFAs, L. pneumophila utilizes the LetA/LetS two-component system, but not phosphotransacetylase or acetyl kinase, two enzymes that generate high-energy phosphate intermediates. Instead, the stringent response enzyme SpoT appears to monitor fatty acid biosynthesis to govern transmission trait expression, as an altered distribution of acylated acyl carrier proteins correlated with the SpoT-dependent differentiation of cells treated with either excess SCFAs or the fatty acid biosynthesis inhibitors cerulenin and 5-(tetradecyloxy)-2-furoic acid. We postulate that, by exploiting the stringent response pathway to couple cellular differentiation to its metabolic state, L. pneumophila swiftly acclimates to stresses encountered in its host or the environment, thereby enhancing its overall fitness.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acyl Carrier Protein / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile / biosynthesis*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Legionella pneumophila / genetics
  • Legionella pneumophila / growth & development*
  • Legionella pneumophila / metabolism*
  • Legionella pneumophila / pathogenicity
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred A
  • Phenotype
  • Virulence


  • Acyl Carrier Protein
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile