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Infect Immun. 2013 Nov;81(11):4182-91. doi: 10.1128/IAI.00858-13. Epub 2013 Aug 26.

Secreted pyomelanin of Legionella pneumophila promotes bacterial iron uptake and growth under iron-limiting conditions.

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Department of Microbiology-Immunology, Northwestern University Medical School, Chicago, Illinois, USA.


Iron acquisition is critical to the growth and virulence of Legionella pneumophila. Previously, we found that L. pneumophila uses both a ferrisiderophore pathway and ferrous iron transport to obtain iron. We now report that two molecules secreted by L. pneumophila, homogentisic acid (HGA) and its polymerized variant (HGA-melanin, a pyomelanin), are able to directly mediate the reduction of various ferric iron salts. Furthermore, HGA, synthetic HGA-melanin, and HGA-melanin derived from bacterial supernatants enhanced the ability of L. pneumophila and other species of Legionella to take up radiolabeled iron. Enhanced iron uptake was not observed with a ferrous iron transport mutant. Thus, HGA and HGA-melanin mediate ferric iron reduction, with the resulting ferrous iron being available to the bacterium for uptake. Upon further testing of L. pneumophila culture supernatants, we found that significant amounts of ferric and ferrous iron were associated with secreted HGA-melanin. Importantly, a pyomelanin-containing fraction obtained from a wild-type culture supernatant was able to stimulate the growth of iron-starved legionellae. That the corresponding supernatant fraction obtained from a nonpigmented mutant culture did not stimulate growth demonstrated that HGA-melanin is able to both promote iron uptake and enhance growth under iron-limiting conditions. Indicative of a complementary role in iron acquisition, HGA-melanin levels were inversely related to the levels of siderophore activity. Compatible with a role in the ecology and pathogenesis of L. pneumophila, HGA and HGA-melanin were effective at reducing and releasing iron from both insoluble ferric hydroxide and the mammalian iron chelates ferritin and transferrin.

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