Biofilms: the environmental playground of Legionella pneumophila

Environ Microbiol. 2010 Mar;12(3):557-66. doi: 10.1111/j.1462-2920.2009.02025.x. Epub 2009 Aug 12.


Legionella pneumophila, the aetiological agent of 90% of legionellosis cases, is a common inhabitant of natural and anthropogenic freshwater environments, where it resides in biofilms. Biofilms are defined as complex, natural assemblages of microorganisms that involve a multitude of trophic interactions. A thorough knowledge and understanding of Legionella ecology in relation to biofilm communities is of primary importance in the search for innovative and effective control strategies to prevent the occurrence of disease cases. This review provides a critical update on the state-of-the-art progress in understanding the mechanisms and factors affecting the biofilm life cycle of L. pneumophila. Particular emphasis is given to discussing the different strategies this human pathogen uses to grow and retain itself in biofilm communities. Biofilms develop not only at solid-water interfaces (substrate-associated biofilms), but also at the water-air interface (floating biofilms). Disturbance of the water surface can lead to liberation of aerosols derived from the floating biofilm into the atmosphere that allow transmission of biofilm-associated pathogens over considerable distances. Recent data concerning the occurrence and replication of L. pneumophila in floating biofilms are also elaborated and discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biofilms*
  • Environment
  • Fresh Water
  • Humans
  • Legionella pneumophila / pathogenicity
  • Legionella pneumophila / physiology*
  • Legionellosis / prevention & control
  • Water Microbiology*