The role of biofilms and protozoa in Legionella pathogenesis: implications for drinking water

J Appl Microbiol. 2009 Aug;107(2):368-78. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2672.2009.04208.x. Epub 2009 Mar 10.


Current models to study Legionella pathogenesis include the use of primary macrophages and monocyte cell lines, various free-living protozoan species and murine models of pneumonia. However, there are very few studies of Legionella spp. pathogenesis aimed at associating the role of biofilm colonization and parasitization of biofilm microbiota and release of virulent bacterial cell/vacuoles in drinking water distribution systems. Moreover, the implications of these environmental niches for drinking water exposure to pathogenic legionellae are poorly understood. This review summarizes the known mechanisms of Legionella spp. proliferation within Acanthamoeba and mammalian cells and advocates the use of the amoeba model to study Legionella pathogenicity because of their close association with Legionella spp. in the aquatic environment. The putative role of biofilms and amoebae in the proliferation, development and dissemination of potentially pathogenic Legionella spp. is also discussed. Elucidating the mechanisms of Legionella pathogenicity development in our drinking water systems will aid in elimination strategies and procedural designs for drinking water systems and in controlling exposure to Legionella spp. and similar pathogens.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acanthamoeba / microbiology
  • Amoeba / microbiology*
  • Animals
  • Biofilms*
  • Eukaryota
  • Fresh Water / microbiology
  • Humans
  • Legionella / growth & development
  • Legionella / pathogenicity*
  • Legionellosis / prevention & control
  • Water Microbiology*