Open Access Research article

Virulence phenotypes of low-passage clinical isolates of Nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae assessed using the chinchilla laniger model of otitis media

Farrel J Buchinsky123, Michael L Forbes14, Jay D Hayes1, Kai Shen1, Suzanne Ezzo5, James Compliment12, Justin Hogg1, N Luisa Hiller1, Fen Ze Hu3, J Christopher Post123 and Garth D Ehrlich123*

Author Affiliations

1 Center for Genomic Sciences, Allegheny-Singer Research Institute/Allegheny General Hospital, 320 East North Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 15212, USA

2 Division of Pediatric Otolaryngology, Department of Surgery, Allegheny General Hospital, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 15212, USA

3 Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Drexel University College of Medicine, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 15212, USA

4 Division of Pediatric Critical Care & Hospitalist Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, Allegheny General Hospital, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 15212, USA

5 Department of Animal Husbandry, Allegheny Singer Research Institute/Allegheny General Hospital, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 15212, USA

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BMC Microbiology 2007, 7:56  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-7-56

Published: 14 June 2007



The nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae (NTHi) are associated with a spectrum of respiratory mucosal infections including: acute otitis media (AOM); chronic otitis media with effusion (COME); otorrhea; locally invasive diseases such as mastoiditis; as well as a range of systemic disease states, suggesting a wide range of virulence phenotypes. Genomic studies have demonstrated that each clinical strain contains a unique genic distribution from a population-based supragenome, the distributed genome hypothesis. These diverse clinical and genotypic findings suggest that each NTHi strain possesses a unique set of virulence factors that contributes to the course of the disease.


The local and systemic virulence patterns of ten genomically characterized low-passage clinical NTHi strains (PittAA – PittJJ) obtained from children with COME or otorrhea were stratified using the chinchilla model of otitis media (OM). Each isolate was used to bilaterally inoculate six animals and thereafter clinical assessments were carried out daily for 8 days by blinded observers. There was no statistical difference in the time it took for any of the 10 NTHi strains to induce otologic (local) disease with respect to any or all of the other strains, however the differences in time to maximal local disease and the severity of local disease were both significant between the strains. Parameters of systemic disease indicated that the strains were not all equivalent: time to development of the systemic disease, maximal systemic scores and mortality were all statistically different among the strains. PittGG induced 100% mortality while PittBB, PittCC, and PittEE produced no mortality. Overall Pitt GG, PittII, and Pitt FF produced the most rapid and most severe local and systemic disease. A post hoc determination of the clinical origins of the 10 NTHi strains revealed that these three strains were of otorrheic origin, whereas the other 7 were from patients with COME.


Collectively these data suggest that the chinchilla OM model is useful for discriminating between otorrheic and COME NTHi strains as to their disease-producing potential in humans, and combined with whole genome analyses, point the way towards identifying classes of virulence genes.