Legionella pneumophila, the etiologic agent of Legionnaires' disease, is phagocytized in an unusual way and multiplies in human mononuclear phagocytes in a novel phagosome. As a first step toward understanding these L. pneumophila-phagocyte interactions, we have studied the envelope of L. pneumophila Philadelphia 1 strain. We isolated cell envelopes by treating whole bacterial cells with lysozyme and EDTA to convert them to spheroplasts, then lysing the spheroplasts osmotically or sonically. We resolved the cell envelopes into two membrane fractions by isopycnic centrifugation. We localized NADH oxidase to the fraction of buoyant density 1.145, which we designated cytoplasmic membrane, and lipopolysaccharide (LPS) to the fraction of density 1.222, which we designated outer membrane. Sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (SDS-PAGE) revealed that the L. pneumophila outer membrane contains a single major protein species migrating at 28,000 mol wt; this is the major protein of the bacterium. The cytoplasmic membrane also contains a single major protein species migrating at 65,000 mol wt. Surface iodination of the bacteria and agglutination and immunofluorescence studies with rabbit antibody produced against the purified major outer membrane protein (MOMP) revealed that this protein is exposed at the cell surface. We isolated LPS from L. pneumophila membranes by SDS-EDTA treatment. The pattern obtained by subjecting the LPS to SDS-PAGE and staining the gel with silver nitrate suggests that L. pneumophila LPS might be atypical. We studied patient serologic responses to cell envelope components of L. pneumophila Philadelphia 1, a serogroup 1 organism. Sera from patients with evidence of infection with serogroup 1 L. pneumophila contained large amounts of antibody to this strain. Few of these antibodies recognized the MOMP of L. pneumophila. In contrast, greater than 98% of these antibodies were directed against the LPS. This indicates that LPS is the dominant serogroup antigen and the major antigen responsible for the reactivity of patient sera in the indirect fluorescent antibody assay, currently the principal diagnostic assay for Legionella infection.

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