Different strains of Mycobacterium tuberculosis cause various spectrums of disease in the rabbit model of tuberculosis

Infect Immun. 2003 Oct;71(10):6004-11. doi: 10.1128/IAI.71.10.6004-6011.2003.


The rabbit model of tuberculosis has been used historically to differentiate between Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Mycobacterium bovis based on their relative virulence in this animal host. M. tuberculosis infection in market rabbits is cleared over time, whereas infection with M. bovis results in chronic, progressive, cavitary disease leading to death. Because of the innate resistance of commercial rabbits to M. tuberculosis, 320 to 1,890 log-phase, actively growing inhaled bacilli were required to form one grossly visible pulmonary tubercle at 5 weeks. The range of inhaled doses required to make one tubercle allows us to determine the relative pathogenicities of different strains. Fewer inhaled organisms of the M. tuberculosis Erdman strain were required than of M. tuberculosis H37Rv to produce a visible lesion at 5 weeks. Furthermore, with the Erdman strain, only 7 of 15 rabbits had healed lesions at 16 to 18 weeks; among the other animals, two had chronic, progressive cavitary disease, a phenotype usually seen only with M. bovis infection. Genotypic investigation of the Erdman strain with an H37Rv-based microarray identified gene differences in the RD6 region. Southern blot and PCR structural genetic analysis showed significant differences between M. tuberculosis strains in this region. Correlation of the relative pathogenicity, including disease severity, in the rabbit model with the strain genotype may help identify stage-specific M. tuberculosis genes important in human disease.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Chromosome Mapping
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Genes, Bacterial
  • Genotype
  • Lung / pathology
  • Mycobacterium bovis / pathogenicity
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / classification
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / genetics
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / pathogenicity*
  • Rabbits
  • Species Specificity
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / etiology*
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / microbiology
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / pathology
  • Virulence


  • DNA, Bacterial