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Elife. 2019 May 28;8. pii: e46086. doi: 10.7554/eLife.46086.

Density-dependent resistance protects Legionella pneumophila from its own antimicrobial metabolite, HGA.

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Division of Basic Sciences, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, United States.
Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, United States.


To persist in microbial communities, the bacterial pathogen Legionella pneumophila must withstand competition from neighboring bacteria. Here, we find that L. pneumophila can antagonize the growth of other Legionella species using a secreted inhibitor: HGA (homogentisic acid). Unexpectedly, L. pneumophila can itself be inhibited by HGA secreted from neighboring, isogenic strains. Our genetic approaches further identify lpg1681 as a gene that modulates L. pneumophila susceptibility to HGA. We find that L. pneumophila sensitivity to HGA is density-dependent and cell intrinsic. Resistance is not mediated by the stringent response nor the previously described Legionella quorum-sensing pathway. Instead, L. pneumophila cells secrete HGA only when they are conditionally HGA-resistant, which allows these bacteria to produce a potentially self-toxic molecule while restricting the opportunity for self-harm. We propose that established Legionella communities may deploy molecules such as HGA as an unusual public good that can protect against invasion by low-density competitors.


Legionella micdadei; Legionella pneumophila; antimicrobial; homogentisic acid; infectious disease; inter-bacterial competition; microbiology; pyomelanin

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