The role of host immune responses in the pathogenesis of Legionnaires' disease is incompletely understood, due in part to the current lack of an animal model that is both susceptible to replicative Legionella pneumophila-induced lung infection and for which species-specific immunological reagents are available. We have developed a model of replicative L. pneumophila lung infection in intratracheally inoculated A/J mice. L. pneumophila was obtained in the exponential growth phase and inoculated into the trachea of 6- to 8-week-old female A/J mice. Microbiological and histopathological evidence of infection was demonstrated in mice inoculated with 10(6) colony-forming units. Development of an acute pneumonia that resembled human Legionnaires' disease coincided with exponential growth of the bacteria in the lung 24 to 48 hours after intratracheal inoculation of L. pneumophila. This was associated with increased plasma levels of interferon-gamma at 24 hours after inoculation. After 48 hours, the bacteria were gradually eliminated from the lung over the next 5 days, corresponding with resolution of the inflammatory response in the lung, thereby mimicking the outcome frequently seen in the immunocompetent human host. Treatment of animals with anti-interferon-gamma antibody enhanced bacterial replication and disease progression, indicating an important role of host immune response in resolution of the infection. Because of the availability of murine-specific reagents, this model of replicative L. pneumophila lung infection in A/J mice after intrapulmonary inoculation of L. pneumophila potentially provides an important tool for future studies investigating the role of host immune responses in the pathogenesis of Legionnaires' disease in the immunocompetent host.