Legionella pneumophila is an intracellular pathogen responsible for Legionnaires' disease. This bacterium uses the Dot/Icm type IV secretion system to inject a large number of bacterial proteins into host cells to facilitate the biogenesis of a phagosome permissive for its intracellular growth. Like many highly adapted intravacuolar pathogens, L. pneumophila is able to maintain a neutral pH in the lumen of its phagosome, particularly in the early phase of infection. However, in all cases, the molecular mechanisms underlying this observation remain unknown. In this report, we describe the identification and characterization of a Legionella protein termed SidK that specifically targets host v-ATPase, the multi-subunit machinery primarily responsible for organelle acidification in eukaryotic cells. Our results indicate that after being injected into infected cells by the Dot/Icm secretion system, SidK interacts with VatA, a key component of the proton pump. Such binding leads to the inhibition of ATP hydrolysis and proton translocation. When delivered into macrophages, SidK inhibits vacuole acidification and impairs the ability of the cells to digest non-pathogenic E. coli. We also show that a domain located in the N-terminal portion of SidK is responsible for its interactions with VatA. Furthermore, expression of sidK is highly induced when bacteria begin to enter new growth cycle, correlating well with the potential temporal requirement of its activity during infection. Our results indicate that direct targeting of v-ATPase by secreted proteins constitutes a virulence strategy for L. pneumophila, a vacuolar pathogen of macrophages and amoebae.
One hallmark of the lysosome is a low luminal pH that is important for its maturation as well as the activity of many hydrolyzing enzymes responsible for efficient digestion of phagocytosed contents. To survive and replicate in phagocytes, successful intracellular pathogens have evolved various mechanisms to circumvent the challenges posed by lysosomal killing. One salient feature associated with infection of the intracellular bacterial pathogen Legionella pneumophila is the maintenance of a neutral pH of the Legionella containing vacuoles (LCVs) that supports its intracellular growth in the early phase of infection, while the nonpathogenic mutants are believed to be immediately trafficked to an acidic compartment. In eukaryotic cells, organelle acidification is mediated by the vacuolar H +-ATPase that translocates protons into target compartments in a process energized by ATP hydrolysis. The recent discovery of the association of v-ATPase with LCVs points to the necessity for active modulation of v-ATPase activity by the bacterium. By screening L. pneumophila proteins that cause a yeast phenotype similar to its v-ATPase mutants, we have identified a substrate of the L. pneumophila Dot/Icm type IV secretion system that specifically inhibits the activity of the proton transporter. This protein, termed SidK, inhibits the activity of v-ATPase by directly interacting with the VatA subunit that is responsible for hydrolyzing ATP. Moreover, macrophages harboring SidK display defects in phagosomal acidification and lysosomal killing of non-pathogenic bacteria. We also found that expression of sidK is highly induced right after stationary bacteria are diluted into fresh medium, suggesting that SidK plays an important role in the early phase of infection. Our results reveal a mechanism by which an intravacuolar pathogen engages the v-ATPase protein and inhibits its activity, rather than actively avoiding its association with the pathogen's vacuolar membrane.