A novel Legionella genomic island encodes a copper-responsive regulatory system and a single Icm/Dot effector protein transcriptionally activated by copper

Marika Linsky, Yevgeniya Vitkin, Gil Segal*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


The intracellular pathogen Legionella pneumophila utilizes the Icm/ Dot type IV secretion system to translocate >300 effector proteins into host cells during infection. The regulation of some of these effector-encoding genes was previously shown to be coordinated by several global regulators, including three two-component systems (TCSs) found in all the Legionella species examined. Here, we describe the first Legionella genomic island encoding a single Icm/Dot effector and a dedicated TCS, which regulates its expression. This genomic island, which we named Lci, undergoes horizontal gene transfer in the Legionella genus, and the TCS encoded from this island (LciRS) is homologous to TCSs that control the expression of various metal resistance systems found in other bacteria. We found that the L. pneumophila sensor histidine kinase LciS is specifically activated by copper via a unique, small periplasmic sensing domain. Upon activation by LciS, the response regulator LciR directly binds to a conserved regulatory element and activates the expression of the adjacently located lciE effector-encoding gene. Thus, LciR represents the first local regulator of effectors identified in L. pneumophila. Moreover, we found that the expression of the lciRS operon is repressed by the Fis1 and Fis3 regulators, leading to Fis-mediated effects on copper induction of LciE and silencing of the expression of this genomic island in the absence of copper. This island represents a novel type of effector regulation in Legionella, shedding new light on the ways by which the Legionella pathogenesis system evolves its effector repertoire and expands its activating signals. IMPORTANCE Legionella pneumophila is an intracellular human pathogen that utilizes amoebae as its environmental host. The adaptation of L. pneumophila to the intracellular environment requires coordination of expression of its multicomponent pathogenesis system, which is composed of a secretion system and effector proteins. However, the regulatory factors controlling the expression of this pathogenesis system are only partially uncovered. Here, we discovered a novel regulatory system that is activated by copper and controls the expression of a single effector protein. The genes encoding both the regulatory system and the effector protein are located on a genomic island that undergoes horizontal gene transfer within the Legionella genus. This regulator-effector genomic island represents the first reported case of local regulation of effectors in Legionella. The discovery of this regulatory mechanism is an important step forward in the understanding of how the regulatory network of effectors functions and evolves in the Legionella genus.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere03232-19
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2020


FundersFunder number
Israeli Science Foundation877/15


    • Copper
    • Effectors
    • Horizontal gene transfer
    • Legionella
    • Signal
    • Two-component system


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