Legionella pneumophila can replicate inside amoebae and also alveolar macrophages to cause Legionnaires’ Disease in susceptible hosts. When nutrients become limiting, a stringent-like response coordinates the differentiation of L. pneumophila to a transmissive form, a process mediated by the two-component system LetA/S and the sigma factors RpoS and FliA. Here we demonstrate that the broadly conserved RNA binding protein CsrA is a global repressor of L. pneumophila transmission phenotypes and an essential activator of intracellular replication. By analysing csrA expression and the phenotypes of csrA single and double mutants and a strain that expresses csrA constitutively, we demonstrate that, during replication in broth, CsrA represses every post-exponential phase phenotype examined, including cell shape shortening, motility, pigmentation, stress resistance, sodium sensitivity, cytotoxicity and efficient macrophage infection. At the transition to the post-exponential phase, LetA/S relieves CsrA repression to induce transmission phenotypes by both FliA-dependent and -independent pathways. For L. pneumophila to avoid lysosomal degradation in macrophages, CsrA repression must be relieved by LetA/S before phagocytosis; conversely, before intracellular bacteria can replicate, CsrA repression must be restored. The reciprocal regulation of replication and transmission exemplified by CsrA likely enhances the fitness of microbes faced with fluctuating environments
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