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Infect Immun. 2006 Jun;74(6):3597-606.

Members of a Legionella pneumophila family of proteins with ExoU (phospholipase A) active sites are translocated to target cells.

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  • 1Department of Molecular Biology and Microbiology and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Tufts University School of Medicine, 136 Harrison Ave., Boston, MA 02111, USA.


Legionella pneumophila replicates within alveolar macrophages, causing a severe pneumonia termed Legionnaires' disease. The bacterium resides within a vacuole that escapes immediate transport to the host lysosome. Instead, the vacuole interacts with the early secretory pathway to establish an environment suitable for rapid multiplication. A type IV secretion system is central to the pathogenicity of the bacterium, and many protein substrates that are translocated by this system to the host cell have been identified. One of these, VipD, was found to interrupt the late secretory pathway when overproduced in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. We independently identified VipD in a previous study and have further characterized this protein as well as its three paralogs. The vipD gene belongs to a family of L. pneumophila open reading frames that are predicted to contain a phospholipase A domain with sequence similarity to the type III-secreted toxin ExoU from Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Similarly to other known translocated proteins of L. pneumophila, VipD is strongly induced in early stationary phase, a time when the bacterium is most virulent. Detergent extraction studies of infected macrophages confirm that VipD is translocated into host cells via the type IV secretion system. A second assay for translocation revealed that two paralogs of VipD, VpdA and VpdB, also have translocation signals recognized by the type IV system. A strain lacking VipD and its three paralogs grew at wild-type rates in murine macrophages, although secondary mutations that cause growth defects in strains lacking VipD accumulate. The quadruple mutant displayed a growth advantage in the amoebal host Dictyostelium discoideum, indicating that the protein family may modulate intracellular growth in a complex fashion. VipD is mildly toxic when overproduced in eukaryotic cells, and the toxicity is partially dependent on the putative phospholipase active site. VipD and its paralogs therefore define a family of translocated proteins that may assist in the establishment of a vacuole suitable for bacterial replication through functioning as a phospholipase.

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