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Pulmonary Bovine-Type Tuberculosis in Rabbits: Bacillary Virulence, Inhaled Dose Effects, Tuberculin Sensitivity, and Mycobacterium vaccae Immunotherapy

  • P. J. Converse
  • A. M. Dannenberg
  • T. Shigenaga
  • D. N. McMurray
  • S. W. Phalen
  • J. L. Stanford
  • G. A. W. Rook
  • T. Koru-Sengul
  • Helen Abbey
  • J. E. Estep
  • M. L. M. Pitt
American Society for Microbiology
Publication Date
Nov 01, 1998
  • Medicine


This report elucidates four aspects of the immunology of pulmonary tuberculosis produced in rabbits: (i) the virulence of bovine-type tubercle bacilli, strain Ravenel S, (ii) systemic factors influencing the generation of visible primary pulmonary tubercles, (iii) differences in tuberculin sensitivity of rabbits and humans, and (iv) the effect of Mycobacterium vaccae immunotherapy on cavitary tuberculosis. Laboratory strain Ravenel S (ATCC 35720) was not fully virulent. Fully virulent strains produce one visible primary pulmonary tubercle for each three bacillary units inhaled. Strain ATCC 35720 produced one such tubercle for each 18 to 107 bacillary units inhaled, indicating that its virulence was reduced by 6- to 36-fold. When a low dose of this Ravenel S strain was inhaled, the host resistance (measured by the number of inhaled bacilli needed to generate one visible primary pulmonary tubercle) was increased at least 3.5-fold compared to the host resistance when a high dose was inhaled. Rabbits and humans differ in the degree and in the maintenance of their dermal sensitivities to tuberculin. Compared to rabbits, humans are 100 times more sensitive to tuberculin. Also, at 33 weeks rabbits with well-controlled cavitary tuberculosis usually showed a decrease in their tuberculin reactions of about 50% from peak values, whereas humans with such well-controlled tuberculosis are thought to maintain strong reactions for many years. These species differences may be due to desensitization to group II mycobacterial antigens in the rabbits because they have a different diet and a different type of digestive tract. M. vaccae immunotherapy of rabbits with cavitary tuberculosis produced no statistically significant effects. Experiments with many more rabbits would be required to prove whether or not such immunotherapy is beneficial.

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