Modeling Immune Evasion and Vaccine Limitations by Targeted Nasopharyngeal Bordetella pertussis Inoculation in Mice

Emerg Infect Dis. 2021 Aug;27(8):2107-2116. doi: 10.3201/eid2708.203566.


Conventional pertussis animal models deliver hundreds of thousands of Bordetella pertussis bacteria deep into the lungs, rapidly inducing severe pneumonic pathology and a robust immune response. However, human infections usually begin with colonization and growth in the upper respiratory tract. We inoculated only the nasopharynx of mice to explore the course of infection in a more natural exposure model. Nasopharyngeal colonization resulted in robust growth in the upper respiratory tract but elicited little immune response, enabling prolonged and persistent infection. Immunization with human acellular pertussis vaccine, which prevents severe lung infections in the conventional pneumonic infection model, had little effect on nasopharyngeal colonization. Our infection model revealed that B. pertussis can efficiently colonize the mouse nasopharynx, grow and spread within and between respiratory organs, evade robust host immunity, and persist for months. This experimental approach can measure aspects of the infection processes not observed in the conventional pneumonic infection model.

Keywords: Bordetella pertussis; asymptomatic infection; bacteria; immune evasion; respiratory infections; upper respiratory tract infection; vaccines.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bordetella Infections*
  • Bordetella pertussis
  • Immune Evasion
  • Mice
  • Nasopharynx
  • Pertussis Vaccine
  • Whooping Cough* / prevention & control


  • Pertussis Vaccine