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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Immune regulation of a chronic bacteria infection and consequences for pathogen transmission

Ashutosh K Pathak1, Kathleen E Creppage1, Jacob R Werner2 and Isabella M Cattadori1*

Author Affiliations

1 Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics, Dept. Biology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park PA 16802, USA

2 Animal Resource Program, Centralized Biological Laboratory, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park PA 16802, USA

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BMC Microbiology 2010, 10:226  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-10-226

Published: 25 August 2010

Abstract

Background

The role of host immunity has been recognized as not only playing a fundamental role in the interaction between the host and pathogen but also in influencing host infectiousness and the ability to shed pathogens. Despite the interest in this area of study, and the development of theoretical work on the immuno-epidemiology of infections, little is known about the immunological processes that influence pathogen shedding patterns.

Results

We used the respiratory bacterium Bordetella bronchiseptica and its common natural host, the rabbit, to examine the intensity and duration of oro-nasal bacteria shedding in relation to changes in the level of serum antibodies, blood cells, cytokine expression and number of bacteria colonies in the respiratory tract. Findings show that infected rabbits shed B. bronchiseptica by contact up to 4.5 months post infection. Shedding was positively affected by number of bacteria in the nasal cavity (CFU/g) but negatively influenced by serum IgG, which also contributed to the initial reduction of bacteria in the nasal cavity. Three main patterns of shedding were identified: i- bacteria were shed intermittently (46% of individuals), ii- bacteria shedding fell with the progression of the infection (31%) and iii- individuals never shed bacteria despite being infected (23%). Differences in the initial number of bacteria shed between the first two groups were associated with differences in the level of serum antibodies and white blood cells. These results suggest that the immunological conditions at the early stage of the infection may play a role in modulating the long term dynamics of B. bronchiseptica shedding.

Conclusions

We propose that IgG influences the threshold of bacteria in the oro-nasal cavity which then affects the intensity and duration of individual shedding. In addition, we suggest that a threshold level of infection is required for shedding, below this value individuals never shed bacteria despite being infected. The mechanisms regulating these interactions are still obscure and more studies are needed to understand the persistence of bacteria in the upper respiratory tract and the processes controlling the intensity and duration of shedding.