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Quorum sensing controls persistence, resuscitation, and virulence of Legionella subpopulations in biofilms


Personnic, Nicolas; Striednig, Bianca; Hilbi, Hubert (2021). Quorum sensing controls persistence, resuscitation, and virulence of Legionella subpopulations in biofilms. The ISME journal, 15(1):196-210.

Abstract

The water-borne bacterium Legionella pneumophila is the causative agent of Legionnaires' disease. In the environment, the opportunistic pathogen colonizes different niches, including free-living protozoa and biofilms. The physiological state(s) of sessile Legionella in biofilms and their functional consequences are not well understood. Using single-cell techniques and fluorescent growth rate probes as well as promoter reporters, we show here that sessile L. pneumophila exhibits phenotypic heterogeneity and adopts growing and nongrowing ("dormant") states in biofilms and microcolonies. Phenotypic heterogeneity is controlled by the Legionella quorum sensing (Lqs) system, the transcription factor LvbR, and the temperature. The Lqs system and LvbR determine the ratio between growing and nongrowing sessile subpopulations, as well as the frequency of growth resumption ("resuscitation") and microcolony formation of individual bacteria. Nongrowing L. pneumophila cells are metabolically active, express virulence genes and show tolerance toward antibiotics. Therefore, these sessile nongrowers are persisters. Taken together, the Lqs system, LvbR and the temperature control the phenotypic heterogeneity of sessile L. pneumophila, and these factors regulate the formation of a distinct subpopulation of nongrowing, antibiotic tolerant, virulent persisters. Hence, the biofilm niche of L. pneumophila has a profound impact on the ecology and virulence of this opportunistic pathogen.

Abstract

The water-borne bacterium Legionella pneumophila is the causative agent of Legionnaires' disease. In the environment, the opportunistic pathogen colonizes different niches, including free-living protozoa and biofilms. The physiological state(s) of sessile Legionella in biofilms and their functional consequences are not well understood. Using single-cell techniques and fluorescent growth rate probes as well as promoter reporters, we show here that sessile L. pneumophila exhibits phenotypic heterogeneity and adopts growing and nongrowing ("dormant") states in biofilms and microcolonies. Phenotypic heterogeneity is controlled by the Legionella quorum sensing (Lqs) system, the transcription factor LvbR, and the temperature. The Lqs system and LvbR determine the ratio between growing and nongrowing sessile subpopulations, as well as the frequency of growth resumption ("resuscitation") and microcolony formation of individual bacteria. Nongrowing L. pneumophila cells are metabolically active, express virulence genes and show tolerance toward antibiotics. Therefore, these sessile nongrowers are persisters. Taken together, the Lqs system, LvbR and the temperature control the phenotypic heterogeneity of sessile L. pneumophila, and these factors regulate the formation of a distinct subpopulation of nongrowing, antibiotic tolerant, virulent persisters. Hence, the biofilm niche of L. pneumophila has a profound impact on the ecology and virulence of this opportunistic pathogen.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:04 Faculty of Medicine > Institute of Medical Microbiology
Dewey Decimal Classification:570 Life sciences; biology
610 Medicine & health
Scopus Subject Areas:Life Sciences > Microbiology
Life Sciences > Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
Language:English
Date:January 2021
Deposited On:19 Jan 2021 13:08
Last Modified:20 Jan 2021 21:01
Publisher:Nature Publishing Group
ISSN:1751-7362
OA Status:Closed
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1038/s41396-020-00774-0
PubMed ID:32951019

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