Immune responses to Cowdria ruminantium, an intracellular organism that causes heartwater in domestic ruminants, were characterized in a DBA/2 mouse model. Immunity induced by infection and treatment was adoptively transferable by splenocytes and could be abrogated by in vivo depletion of T cells but not by inhibition of nitric oxide synthase using NG-monomethyl-l-arginine. IgG2a and IgG2b C. ruminantium-specific responses were detected in immune mice. Culture supernatants of splenocytes from immune DBA/2 mice, which were stimulated with crude C. ruminantium antigens or recombinant major antigenic proteins 1 or 2, contained significant levels of interferon (IFN)-γ and interleukin (IL)-6, but insignificant levels of IL-1α, IL-2, IL-4, IL-5, IL-10, IL-12, tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF), and nitric oxide. A similar response was detected during primary infection, although IFN-γ levels decreased significantly during clinical illness and then increased following natural or antibiotic-aided recovery. These data support the conclusion that protective immunity to C. ruminantium in DBA/2 mice is mediated by T cells and is associated with a polarized T helper 1 type of immune response. This murine model could be utilized to screen for protective C. ruminantium antigens that provoke Th1 type immune responses and for evaluation of these antigens in recombinant vaccines against heartwater.

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