Legionella pneumophila is a bacterial parasite of many species of freshwater protozoa and occasionally an intracellular pathogen of humans. While protozoa are known to play a key role in the persistence of L. pneumophila in the environment, there has been limited research addressing the potential role of L. pneumophila-infected protozoa in the pathogenesis of human infection. In this report, the potential role of an L. pneumophila-infected amoeba as an infectious particle in replicative L. pneumophila lung infection was investigated in vivo with the amoeba Hartmannella vermiformis, a natural reservoir of L. pneumophila in the environment. L. pneumophila-infected H. vermiformis organisms were prepared by coculture of the amoebae and virulent L. pneumophila cells in vitro. A/J mice, which are susceptible to replicative L. pneumophila lung infection, were subsequently inoculated intratracheally with L. pneumophila-infected H. vermiformis organisms (10(6) amoebae containing 10(5) bacteria), and intrapulmonary growth of the bacteria was assessed. A/J mice inoculated intratracheally with L. pneumophila-infected H. vermiformis organisms developed replicative L. pneumophila lung infections. Furthermore, L. pneumophila-infected H. vermiformis organisms were more pathogenic than an equivalent number of bacteria or a coinoculum of L. pneumophila cells and uninfected amoebae. These results demonstrate that L. pneumophila-infected amoebae are infectious particles in replicative L. pneumophila infections in vivo and support the hypothesis that inhaled protozoa may serve as cofactors in the pathogenesis of pulmonary disease induced by inhaled respiratory pathogens.