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Microb Ecol. 2015 Jan;69(1):215-24. doi: 10.1007/s00248-014-0470-x. Epub 2014 Jul 30.

Viable but not culturable forms of Legionella pneumophila generated after heat shock treatment are infectious for macrophage-like and alveolar epithelial cells after resuscitation on Acanthamoeba polyphaga.

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Groupe Immunité des Muqueuses et Agents Pathogènes (GIMAP), EA 3064, SFR 143, University of Lyon, 42023, Saint-Etienne, France.


Legionella pneumophila, the causative agent of legionellosis is transmitted to human through aerosols from environmental sources and invades lung's macrophages. It also can invade and replicate within various protozoan species in environmental reservoirs. Following exposures to various stresses, L. pneumophila enters a non-replicative viable but non-culturable (VBNC) state. Here, we evaluated whether VBNC forms of three L. pneumophila serogroup 1 strains (Philadelphia GFP 008, clinical 044 and environmental RNN) infect differentiated macrophage-like cell lines (U937 and HL-60), A549 alveolar cells and Acanthamoeba polyphaga. VBNC forms obtained following shocks at temperatures ranging from 50 to 70 °C for 5 to 60 min were quantified using a flow cytometric assay (FCA). Their loss of culturability was checked on BCYE agar medium. VBNC forms were systematically detected upon a 70 °C heat shock for 30 min. When testing their potential to resuscitate upon amoebal infection, VBNC forms obtained after 30 min at 70 °C were re-cultivated except for the clinical strain. No resuscitation or cell lysis was evidenced when using U937, HL-60, or A549 cells despite the use of various contact times and culture media. None of the strains tested could infect A. polyphaga, macrophage-like or alveolar epithelial cells after a 60-min treatment at 70 °C. However, heat-treated VBNC forms were able to infect macrophage-like or alveolar epithelial cells following their resuscitation on A. polyphaga. These results suggest that heat-generated VBNC forms of L. pneumophila (i) are not infectious for macrophage-like or alveolar epithelial cells in vitro although resuscitation is still possible using amoeba, and (ii) may become infectious for human cell lines following a previous interaction with A. polyphaga.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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