Planktonic replication is essential for biofilm formation by Legionella pneumophila in a complex medium under static and dynamic flow conditions

J. Mampel, T. Spirig, S.S. Weber, Janus Anders Juul Haagensen, Søren Molin, H. Hilbi

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


    Legionella pneumophila persists for a long time in aquatic habitats, where the bacteria associate with biofilms and replicate within protozoan predators. While L. pneumophila serves as a paradigm for intracellular growth within protozoa, it is less clear whether the bacteria form or replicate within biofilms in the absence of protozoa. In this study, we analyzed surface adherence of and biofilm formation by L. pneumophila in a rich medium that supported axenic replication. Biofilm formation by the virulent L. pneumophila strain JR32 and by clinical and environmental isolates was analyzed by confocal microscopy and crystal violet staining. Strain JR32 formed biofilms on glass surfaces and upright polystyrene wells, as well as on pins of "inverse" microtiter plates, indicating that biofilm formation was not simply due to sedimentation of the bacteria. Biofilm formation by an L. pneumophila fliA mutant lacking the alternative sigma factor sigma(28) was reduced, which demonstrated that bacterial factors are required. Accumulation of biomass coincided with an increase in the optical density at 600 nm and ceased when the bacteria reached the stationary growth phase. L. pneumophila neither grew nor formed biofilms in the inverse system if the medium was exchanged twice a day. However, after addition of Acanthamoeba castellanii, the bacteria proliferated and adhered to surfaces. Sessile (surface-attached) and planktonic (free-swimming) L. pneumophila expressed beta-galactosidase activity to similar extents, and therefore, the observed lack of proliferation of surface-attached bacteria was not due to impaired protein synthesis or metabolic activity. Cocultivation of green fluorescent protein (GFP)- and DsRed-labeled L. pneumophila led to randomly interspersed cells on the substratum and in aggregates, and no sizeable patches of clonally growing bacteria were observed. Our findings indicate that biofilm formation by L. pneumophila in a rich medium is due to growth of planktonic bacteria rather than to growth of sessile bacteria. In agreement with this conclusion, GFP-labeled L. pneumophila initially adhered in a continuous-flow chamber system but detached over time; the detachment correlated with the flow rate, and there was no accumulation of biomass. Under these conditions, L. pneumophila persisted in biofilms formed by Empedobacter breve or Microbacterium sp. but not in biofilms formed by Klebsiella pneumoniae or other environmental bacteria, suggesting that specific interactions between the bacteria modulate adherence.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
    Issue number4
    Pages (from-to)2885-2895
    Publication statusPublished - 2006

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