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Expression of either lethal toxin or edema toxin by Bacillus anthracis is sufficient for virulence in a rabbit model of inhalational anthrax

, : Expression of either lethal toxin or edema toxin by Bacillus anthracis is sufficient for virulence in a rabbit model of inhalational anthrax. Infection and Immunity 80(7): 2414-2425

The development of therapeutics against biothreats requires that we understand the pathogenesis of the disease in relevant animal models. The rabbit model of inhalational anthrax is an important tool in the assessment of potential therapeutics against Bacillus anthracis. We investigated the roles of B. anthracis capsule and toxins in the pathogenesis of inhalational anthrax in rabbits by comparing infection with the Ames strain versus isogenic mutants with deletions of the genes for the capsule operon (capBCADE), lethal factor (lef), edema factor (cya), or protective antigen (pagA). The absence of capsule or protective antigen (PA) resulted in complete avirulence, while the presence of either edema toxin or lethal toxin plus capsule resulted in lethality. The absence of toxin did not influence the ability of B. anthracis to traffic to draining lymph nodes, but systemic dissemination required the presence of at least one of the toxins. Histopathology studies demonstrated minimal differences among lethal wild-type and single toxin mutant strains. When rabbits were coinfected with the Ames strain and the PA– mutant strain, the toxin produced by the Ames strain was not able to promote dissemination of the PA– mutant, suggesting that toxigenic action occurs in close proximity to secreting bacteria. Taken together, these findings suggest that a major role for toxins in the pathogenesis of anthrax is to enable the organism to overcome innate host effector mechanisms locally and that much of the damage during the later stages of infection is due to the interactions of the host with the massive bacterial burden.


PMID: 22526673

DOI: 10.1128/IAI.06340-11

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