Rabbits were given, by the intra-gastric route, two isogenic strains of that differed only in the presence or absence of the virulence plasmid. Clinical illness and characteristic morphological lesions of infection were seen only in rabbits infected with the plasmid-bearing strain (MCH700S). Although rabbits infected with a strain lacking the plasmid (MCH700L) remained healthy, mild histological changes in the small intestine, consisting of epithelial-cell damage, dilatation of lymphatics and a slight increase in neutrophil polymorphonuclear leukocytes in lamina propria, were seen in the first 12 h after inoculation. Bacteria, which were identified as by indirect fluorescent antibody staining, were seen in dilated lymphatics. These early lesions tended to abate quickly and were no longer detectable at 24 h. Strain MCH700L was recovered from the mesenteric lymph nodes in increasing numbers until 24 h after inoculation; the number then began to decrease rapidly. In contrast, the early lesions in rabbits given strain MCH700S progressed to micro-abscesses, focal destruction of villi, and ulcerations beginning 24 h after inoculation; the number of bacteria recovered from the lymph nodes continued to increase beyond 24 h after inoculation. Bacteria were also recovered from the liver and spleen. These results suggest that both plasmid-bearing and non-bearing strains of are capable of penetrating the intestinal mucosa. However, the virulence plasmid is required for invading bacteria to proliferate in the host tissue and to establish infection.


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