What animal models teach humans about tuberculosis

Am J Respir Cell Mol Biol. 2008 Nov;39(5):503-8. doi: 10.1165/rcmb.2008-0154TR. Epub 2008 Jun 12.


Animal models have become standard tools for the study of a wide array of human infectious diseases. Although there are no true animal reservoirs for Mycobacterium tuberculosis, many different animal species are susceptible to infection with this organism and have served as valuable tools for the study of tuberculosis (TB). The most commonly used experimental animal models of TB are the mouse, rabbit, and guinea pig. Although substantial differences in TB susceptibility and disease manifestations exist between these species, they have contributed significantly to the understanding of TB immunopathogenesis, host genetic influence on infection, efficacy of antimicrobial therapy, and host/pathogen interactions that determine the outcome or severity of infection. Among the three species, mice are relatively resistant to TB infection, followed by rabbits and then guinea pigs, which are extremely vulnerable to infection. Mice are most often used in experiments on immune responses to TB infection and drug regimens against TB. Rabbits, unlike the other two animal models, develop cavitary TB and offer a means to study the factors leading to this form of the disease. Guinea pigs, due to their high susceptibility to infection, have been ideal for studies on airborne transmission and vaccine efficacy. In addition to these three species, TB research has occasionally involved nonhuman primates and cattle models. Current concepts in TB pathogenesis have also been derived from animal studies involving experimentally induced infections with related mycobacteria (e.g., Mycobacterium bovis) whose manifestations in select animal hosts mimic human TB.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal*
  • Humans
  • Tuberculosis / immunology
  • Tuberculosis / metabolism*
  • Tuberculosis / transmission