The kinetics of infection and humoral immune response of laboratory-bred cotton rats (Sigmodon hispidus) challenged with three Bartonella spp. recovered from the blood of naturally infected cotton rats captured in Georgia (USA) are described. Bartonella spp. infection, as determined by bacteremia, occurred in all 18 cotton rats inoculated with live Bartonella of each species at either a low dose, 103 colony-forming units (CFU's), or high dose, 107 CFU. Cotton rats inoculated with lower doses of Bartonella spp. developed higher bacteremia that persisted for longer periods than in those inoculated with high doses. Peak bacteremia varied among Bartonella spp, ranging from 104 to 106 CFUs per 1.0 ml of blood. Antibody measured by immunofluorescence assays using species-specific antigens indicated more rapidly rising and higher antibody titers in cotton rats challenged with high doses vs. low doses and with inactivated bacteria vs. live bacteria. Each group of rats produced high IgG titers to the homologous challenge antigen; low or unmeasurable cross-reactivity was detected to heterologous Bartonella antigens. Exposure of cotton rats to a specific Bartonella sp. resulted in protection, as measured by detectable bacteremia, in eight of nine animals challenged with the same Bartonella sp. used initially; no evidence of resistance to secondary challenge with different Bartonella spp. was obtained. Cross-protection between Bartonella spp., isolated from the same rodent species, may not occur.

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