Legionella pneumophila is an intracellular pathogen replicating in human macrophages during the course of infection of the lungs. Infection by legionellae often leads to severe pneumonia, termed Legionnaires' disease. Genetic approaches to identify the factors responsible for L. pneumophila pathogenicity started with the construction of genomic libraries in Escherichia coli. Various L. pneumophila-specific genes were cloned in E. coli K-12 by identification using functional assays, antibody screening and hybridization ('reverse genetics'). By disrupting the genes via allelic exchange, mutants have been created to assess the influence of the factors on pathogenicity. Among the cloned genes, only for the gene product of the mip gene, encoding a 24-kDa surface-associated protein (macrophage infectivity potentiator) unequivocal evidence for its contribution to pathogenicity could be provided. Two hemolytic factors that have been cloned do not seem to play a role in L. pneumophila pathogenicity. Genetic systems for transposon mutagenesis of the L. pneumophila genome (Tn5, Tn903dIIlacZ, MudphoA), including Tn phoA shuttle mutagenesis, have been established and specifically adapted to identify mutants which displayed an impaired capability to multiply inside macrophages and with a reduced in vivo virulence. Furthermore, by complementation of avirulent mutants, genetic loci could be identified which restored the virulence.