We used quantitative fluorescence microscopy to measure the pH of phagosomes in human monocytes that contain virulent Legionella pneumophila, a bacterial pathogen that multiplies intracellularly in these phagocytes. The mean pH of phagosomes that contain live L. pneumophila was 6.1 in 14 experiments. In the same experiments, the mean pH of phagosomes containing dead L. pneumophila averaged 0.8 pH units lower than the mean pH of phagosomes containing live L. pneumophila, a difference that was highly significant (P less than 0.01 in all 14 experiments). In contrast, the mean pH of phagosomes initially containing live E. coli, which were then killed by monocytes, was the same as for phagosomes initially containing dead E. coli. The mean pH of L. pneumophila phagosomes in activated monocytes, which inhibit L. pneumophila intracellular multiplication, was the same as in nonactivated monocytes. To simultaneously measure the pH of different phagosomes within the same monocyte, we digitized and analyzed fluorescence images of monocytes that contained both live L. pneumophila and sheep erythrocytes. Within the same monocyte, live L. pneumophila phagosomes had a pH of approximately 6.1 and sheep erythrocyte phagosomes had a pH of approximately 5.0 or below. This study demonstrates that L. pneumophila is capable of modifying the pH of its phagocytic vacuole. This capability may be critical to the intracellular survival and multiplication of this and other intracellular pathogens.

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