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Vet Immunol Immunopathol. 2001 May 10;79(1-2):101-14.

Immunity to Rhodococcus equi: antigen-specific recall responses in the lungs of adult horses.

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Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, Washington State University, P.O. Box 647040, Pullman, WA 99164-7040, USA.


Rhodococcal pneumonia is an important disease of young horses that is not seen in immunocompetent adults. Since all foals are normally exposed to Rhodococcus equi in their environment, we hypothesized that most develop protective immune responses. Furthermore, these antigen-specific responses were hypothesized to operate throughout adult life to prevent rhodococcal pneumonia. A better understanding of the mechanisms of immune clearance in adult horses would help define the requirements for an effective vaccine in foals. Adult horses were challenged with virulent R. equi by intrabronchial inoculation into the right lung, and pulmonary immune responses were followed for 2 weeks by bronchoalveolar lavage. Local responses in the inoculated right lung were compared to the uninfected left lung and peripheral blood. Challenged horses rapidly cleared R. equi infection without significant clinical signs. Clearance of bacteria was associated with increased mononuclear cells in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid (primarily lymphocytes) and inversion of the normal macrophage:lymphocyte ratio. There was no significant increase in neutrophils at 7 days post-challenge. Flow cytometric analysis of bronchoalveolar lavage fluid demonstrated that clearance correlated with significant increases in pulmonary T-lymphocytes, both CD4+ and CD8+. Prior to challenge, most adult horses demonstrated low proliferative responses when pulmonary lymphocytes were stimulated with soluble R. equi ex vivo. However, clearance was associated with marked increases in lymphoproliferative responses to soluble R. equi antigen and recombinant VapA, a virulence associated protein of R. equi and candidate immunogen. These results are compatible with previous work in mice which showed that both CD4+ and CD8+ T-cells play a role in immune clearance of R. equi. Recognition of VapA in association with clearance lends further support to its testing as an immunogen. Importantly, the cellular responses to R. equi challenge were relatively compartmentalized. Responses were more marked and the sensitivity to antigen dose was increased at the site of challenge. The blood, including peripheral blood mononuclear cells, was an insensitive indicator of local pulmonary responses.

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