Legionnaires' Disease Mortality in Guinea Pigs Involves the p45 Mobile Genomic Element.
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BACKGROUND: Legionella can cause Legionnaires' disease, a potentially fatal form of pneumonia that occurs as sporadic epidemics. Not all strains display the same propensity to cause disease in humans. Because Legionella pneumophila serogroup 1 is responsible for >85% of infections, the majority of studies have examined this serogroup, but there are 3 commonly used laboratory strains: L pneumophila serogroup 1 Philadelphia (Phil-1)-derived strains JR32 and Lp01 and 130b-derived strain AA100. METHODS: We evaluated the ability of Phil-1, JR32, Lp01, and AA100 to cause disease in guinea pigs. RESULTS: We found that, although Phil-1, JR32, and AA100 cause an acute pneumonia and death by 4 days postinfection (100%), strain Lp01 does not cause mortality (0%). We also noted that Lp01 lacks a mobile element, designated p45, whose presence correlates with virulence. Transfer of p45 into Lp01 results in recovery of the ability of this strain to cause mortality, leads to more pronounced disease, and correlates with increased interferon- levels in the lungs and spleens before death. CONCLUSIONS: These observations suggest a mechanism of Legionnaires' disease pathogenesis due to the presence of type IVA secretion systems that cause higher mortality due to overinduction of a proinflammatory response in the host.