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Vet Res. 2012 Jun 20;43:53. doi: 10.1186/1297-9716-43-53.

Evidence of host adaptation in Lawsonia intracellularis infections.

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Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Minnesota, St, Paul, MN, 55108, USA.



Lawsonia intracellularis is the causative agent of proliferative enteropathy, an endemic disease in pigs and an emerging concern in horses. Enterocyte hyperplasia is a common lesion in every case but there are differences regarding clinical and pathological presentations among affected species. We hypothesize that host susceptibility to L. intracellularis infection depends on the species of origin of the bacterial isolate. The objective of this study was to evaluate the susceptibilities of pigs and horses to L. intracellularis infection using either a porcine or an equine isolate.


Twelve foals and eighteen pigs were equally divided into three groups and infected with either a porcine or an equine isolate (109L. Intracellularis/challenged animal), and a saline solution (negative control group). The animals were monitored regarding clinical signs, average of daily weight gain, fecal shedding of the bacteria by PCR and humoral serological response.


Foals infected with the equine isolate developed moderate to severe clinical signs and maintained a lower average of weight gain compared to control foals. Fecal quantitative PCR in equine isolate-infected foals revealed higher amounts of bacterial DNA associated with longer duration of shedding compared with porcine isolate-infected foals. All four foals infected with the equine isolate demonstrated higher IgG titers in the serum compared with porcine isolate-infected foals. In the pig trial, diarrhea and seroconversion were only observed in animals infected with the porcine isolate. Pathological changes typical of proliferative enteropathy were observed in the necropsied foal infected with equine isolate and in the two necropsied pigs infected with the porcine isolate.


Evident clinical signs, longer periods of bacterial shedding and stronger serologic immune responses were observed in animals infected with species-specific isolates. These results show that host susceptibility is driven by the origin of the isolated L. intracellularis strain.

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