Legionella pneumophila pathogenesis in the Galleria mellonella infection model.
Legionella pneumophila is a facultative intracellular human pathogen and the etiological agent of severe pneumonia known as Legionnaires' disease. Its virulence depends on protein secretion systems, in particular, the Dot/Icm type IV secretion system (T4SS), which is essential to establish a replication-permissive vacuole in macrophages. The analysis of the role of these systems and their substrates for pathogenesis requires easy-to-use models which approximate human infection. We examined the effectiveness of the larvae of the wax moth Galleria mellonella as a new model for L. pneumophila infection. We found that the L. pneumophila strains 130b, Paris, and JR32 caused mortality of the G. mellonella larvae that was strain, infectious dose, growth phase, and T4SS dependent. Wild-type L. pneumophila persisted and replicated within the larvae, whereas T4SS mutants were rapidly cleared. L. pneumophila strain Lp02, which is attenuated in the absence of thymidine but has a functional T4SS, resisted clearance in G. mellonella up to 18 h postinfection without inducing mortality. Immunofluorescence and transmission electron microscopy revealed that L. pneumophila resided within insect hemocytes in a vacuole that ultrastructurally resembled the Legionella-containing vacuole (LCV) observed in macrophages. The vacuole was decorated with the T4SS effector and LCV marker SidC. Infection caused severe damage to the insect organs and triggered immune responses, including activation of the phenoloxidase cascade leading to melanization, nodule formation, and upregulation of antimicrobial peptides. Taken together, these results suggest that G. mellonella provides an effective model to investigate the interaction between L. pneumophila and the host.