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Microbes Infect. 2009 Feb;11(2):205-14. doi: 10.1016/j.micinf.2008.11.009. Epub 2008 Dec 3.

Characterization of the rat pneumonic plague model: infection kinetics following aerosolization of Yersinia pestis CO92.

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Departments of Microbiology and Immunology, UTMB, 301 University Boulevard, MRB 3.142H, Galveston, TX 77555-1070, USA.


Yersinia pestis, the causative agent of human bubonic and pneumonic plague, is spread during natural infection by the fleas of rodents. Historically associated with infected rat fleas, studies on the kinetics of infection in rats are surprisingly few, and these reports have focused mainly on bubonic plague. Although the natural route of primary infection results in bubonic plague in humans, it is commonly thought that aerosolized Y. pestis will be utilized during a biowarfare attack. Accordingly, based on our previous characterization of the mouse model of pneumonic plague, we sought to examine the progression of infection in rats exposed in a whole-body Madison chamber to aerosolized Y. pestis CO92. Following an 8.6 LD(50) dose of Y. pestis, injury was apparent in the rat tissues based on histopathology, and chemokines and cytokines rose above control levels (1h post infection [p.i.]) in the sera and organ homogenates over a 72-h infection period. Bacteria disseminated from the lungs to peripheral organs, with the largest increases in the spleen, followed by the liver and blood at 72h p.i. compared to the 1h controls. Importantly, rats were as sensitive to pneumonic plague as mice, having a similar LD(50) dose by the intranasal and aerosolized routes. Further, we showed direct transmission of plague bacteria from infected to uninfected rats. Taken together, the data allowed us to characterize for the first time a rat pneumonic plague model following aerosolization of Y. pestis.

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