Upon phagocytosis, Legionella pneumophila translocates numerous effector proteins into host cells to perturb cellular metabolism and immunity, ultimately establishing intracellular survival and growth. VipD of L. pneumophila belongs to a family of bacterial effectors that contain the N-terminal lipase domain and the C-terminal domain with an unknown function. We report the crystal structure of VipD and show that its C-terminal domain robustly interferes with endosomal trafficking through tight and selective interactions with Rab5 and Rab22. This domain, which is not significantly similar to any known protein structure, potently interacts with the GTP-bound active form of the two Rabs by recognizing a hydrophobic triad conserved in Rabs. These interactions prevent Rab5 and Rab22 from binding to downstream effectors Rabaptin-5, Rabenosyn-5 and EEA1, consequently blocking endosomal trafficking and subsequent lysosomal degradation of endocytic materials in macrophage cells. Together, this work reveals endosomal trafficking as a target of L. pneumophila and delineates the underlying molecular mechanism.
Legionella pneumophila is a pathogen bacterium that causes Legionnaires' disease accompanied by severe pneumonia. Surprisingly, this pathogen invades and replicates inside macrophages, whose major function is to detect and destroy invading microorganisms. How L. pneumophila can be “immune” to this primary immune cell has been a focus of intensive research. Upon being engulfed by a macrophage cell, L. pneumophila translocates hundreds of bacterial proteins into this host cell. These proteins, called bacterial effectors, are thought to manipulate normal host cellular processes. However, which host molecules and how they are targeted by the bacterial effectors are largely unknown. In this study, we determined the three-dimensional structure of L. pneumophila effector protein VipD, whose function in macrophage was unknown. Ensuing analyses revealed that VipD selectively and tightly binds two host signaling proteins Rab5 and Rab22, which are key regulators of early endosomal vesicle trafficking. These interactions prevent the activated form of Rab5 and Rab22 from binding their downstream signaling proteins, resulting in the blockade of endosomal trafficking in macrophages. The presented work shows that L. pneumophila targets endosomal Rab proteins and delineates the underlying molecular mechanism, providing a new insight into the pathogen's strategies to dysregulate normal intracellular processes.