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J Biol Chem. 2013 Apr 19;288(16):11080-92. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M112.426049. Epub 2013 Mar 1.

The Legionella pneumophila Dot/Icm-secreted effector PlcC/CegC1 together with PlcA and PlcB promotes virulence and belongs to a novel zinc metallophospholipase C family present in bacteria and fungi.

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  • 1Division of Bacterial Infections, Robert Koch-Institut, Burgstrasse 37, 38855 Wernigerode, Germany.


Legionella pneumophila is a water-borne bacterium that causes pneumonia in humans. PlcA and PlcB are two previously defined L. pneumophila proteins with homology to the phosphatidylcholine-specific phospholipase C (PC-PLC) of Pseudomonas fluorescens. Additionally, we found that Lpg0012 shows similarity to PLCs and has been shown to be a Dot/Icm-injected effector, CegC1, which is designated here as PlcC. It remained unclear, however, whether these L. pneumophila proteins exhibit PLC activity. PlcC expressed in Escherichia coli hydrolyzed a broad phospholipid spectrum, including PC, phosphatidylglycerol (PG), and phosphatidylinositol. The addition of Zn(2+) ions activated, whereas EDTA inhibited, PlcC-derived PLC activity. Protein homology search revealed that the three Legionella enzymes and P. fluorescens PC-PLC share conserved domains also present in uncharacterized fungal proteins. Fifteen conserved amino acids were essential for enzyme activity as identified via PlcC mutagenesis. Analysis of defined L. pneumophila knock-out mutants indicated Lsp-dependent export of PG-hydrolyzing PLC activity. PlcA and PlcB exhibited PG-specific activity and contain a predicted Sec signal sequence. In line with the reported requirement of host cell contact for Dot/Icm-dependent effector translocation, PlcC showed cell-associated PC-specific PLC activity after bacterial growth in broth. A PLC triple mutant, but not single or double mutants, exhibited reduced host killing in a Galleria mellonella infection model, highlighting the importance of the three PLCs in pathogenesis. In summary, we describe here a novel Zn(2+)-dependent PLC family present in Legionella, Pseudomonas, and fungi with broad substrate preference and function in virulence.

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