Legionella pneumophila, the causative agent of Legionnaires' disease, is a Gram-negative bacterium and a facultative intracellular parasite that multiplies in human monocytes and alveolar macrophages. In this paper, mutants of L. pneumophila avirulent for human monocytes were obtained and extensively characterized. The mutants were obtained by serial passage of wild-type L. pneumophila on suboptimal artificial medium. None of 44 such mutant clones were capable of multiplying in monocytes or exerting a cytopathic effect on monocyte monolayers. Under the same conditions, wild-type L. pneumophila multiplied 2.5-4.5 logs, and destroyed the monocyte monolayers. The basis for the avirulent phenotype was an inability of the mutants to multiply intracellularly. Both mutant and wild-type bacteria bound to and were ingested by monocytes, and both entered by coiling phagocytosis. Thereafter, their intracellular destinies diverged. The wild-type formed a distinctive ribosome-lined replicative phagosome, inhibited phagosome-lysosome fusion, and multiplied intracellularly. The mutant did not form the distinctive phagosome nor inhibit phagosome-lysosome fusion. The mutant survived intracellularly but did not replicate in the phagolysosome. In all other respects studied, the mutant and wild-type bacteria were similar. They had similar ultrastructure and colony morphology; both formed colonies of compact and diffuse type. They had similar structural and secretory protein profiles and LPS profile by PAGE. Both the mutant and wild-type bacteria were completely resistant to human complement in the presence or absence of high titer anti-L. pneumophila antibody. The mutant L. pneumophila have tremendous potential for enhancing our understanding of the intracellular biology of L. pneumophila and other parasites that follow a similar pathway through the mononuclear phagocyte. Such mutants also show promise for enhancing our understanding of immunity to L. pneumophila, and they may serve as prototypes in the development of safe and effective vaccines against intracellular pathogens.

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