Pseudomonas aeruginosa uses type III secretion system to kill biofilm-associated amoebae

Carsten Matz, Ana Maria Moreno, Morten Alhede, Mike Manefield, Alan R. Hauser, Michael Christian Givskov, Staffan Kjelleberg

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Bacteria and protozoa coexist in a wide range of biofilm communities of natural, technical and medical importance. Generally, this interaction is characterized by the extensive grazing activity of protozoa on bacterial prey populations. We hypothesized that the close spatial coexistence in biofilms should allow opportunistic pathogenic bacteria to utilize their eukaryote-targeting arsenal to attack and exploit protozoan host cells. Studying cocultures of the environmental pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa and the amoeba Acanthamoeba castellanii, we found that P. aeruginosa rapidly colonized and killed biofilm-associated amoebae by a quorum-sensing independent mechanism. Analysis of the amoeba-induced transcriptome indicated the involvement of the P. aeruginosa type III secretion system (T3SS) in this interaction. A comparison of mutants with specific defects in the T3SS demonstrated the use of the secretion apparatus and the effectors ExoU, ExoS and ExoT in the killing process, of which ExoU had the greatest impact. T3SS-mediated virulence towards A. castellanii was found to be controlled by the global regulators RpoN and RpoS and through modulation of cAMP and alginate biosynthesis. Our findings suggest that conserved virulence pathways and specifically the T3SS play a central role in bacteria- protozoa interactions in biofilms and may be instrumental for the environmental persistence and evolution of opportunistic bacterial pathogens.
Original languageEnglish
JournalISME Journal
Issue number8
Pages (from-to)843-852
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • bacteria-protozoa interactions
  • Acanthamoeba
  • transcriptome
  • conserved virulence


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