Pathology of inhalational anthrax animal models

Vet Pathol. 2010 Sep;47(5):819-30. doi: 10.1177/0300985810378112. Epub 2010 Jul 23.


Anthrax is a lethal disease caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis. There are three principal forms of the disease in humans-cutaneous, gastrointestinal, and inhalational-depending on the route of exposure. Of these, inhalational anthrax is the most dangerous; it is rapidly fatal; and it has been used as a deadly biological warfare agent in the last decade. Suitable animal models of inhalational anthrax have been utilized to study pathogenesis of disease, investigate bacterial characteristics such as virulence, and test effectiveness of vaccines and therapeutics. To date, mice, guinea pigs, rabbits, and nonhuman primates are the principal animal species used to study inhalational anthrax. Mice are valuable in studying early pathogenesis and bacterial characteristics. Few pathologic changes occur in the mouse models but may include marked bacteremia and lymphocyte destruction in the spleen and mediastinal lymph nodes. Rabbits and guinea pigs rapidly develop fulminate systemic disease, and pathologic findings often include necrotizing lymphadenitis; splenitis; pneumonia; vasculitis; and hemorrhage, congestion, and edema in multiple tissues. Nonhuman primates consistently develop the full range of classic lesions of human inhalational anthrax, including meningitis; lymphadenitis; splenitis; mediastinitis; pneumonia; vasculitis; and hemorrhage, congestion, and edema in multiple tissues. This review focuses on basic characteristics of the bacterium and its products, key aspects of pathogenesis, and the pathologic changes commonly observed in each animal model species.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anthrax / immunology*
  • Anthrax / microbiology
  • Anthrax / pathology
  • Anthrax / prevention & control
  • Anthrax Vaccines / immunology*
  • Bacillus anthracis / immunology*
  • Bacillus anthracis / pathogenicity
  • Biological Warfare Agents*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Humans
  • Inhalation Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Virulence


  • Anthrax Vaccines
  • Biological Warfare Agents