Physiological responses to multiple low-doses of bacillus anthracis spores in the rabbit model of inhalation anthrax

Sarah C. Taft, Tonya L. Nichols, Stephanie A. Hines, Roy E. Barnewall, Gregory V. Stark, Jason E. Comer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Bacillus anthracis spores that are re-aerosolized from surface deposits after initial contamination present significant health risks for personnel involved in decontamination. To model repeated exposure to low dose B. anthracis spores, three groups of seven rabbits were challenged with multiple low-doses of B. anthracis spores 5 days a week for 3 weeks. Mortality, body temperature, heart and respiration rates, hematology, C-reactive protein, bacteremia, and serum protective antigen were monitored for 21 days post-exposure after the last of multiple doses. All rabbits exposed to a mean daily dose of 2.91 × 102 colony forming units (CFU) survived and showed minimal physiological changes attributable to exposure. One of seven rabbits receiving a mean daily dose of 1.22 × 103 CFU died and four of seven receiving a mean daily dose of 1.17 × 104 CFU died. The LD50 was calculated to be 8.1 × 103 CFU of accumulated dose. Rabbits that succumbed to the higher dose exhibited bacteremia and increases above baseline in heart rate, respiration rate, and body temperature. Two rabbits in the mean daily dose group of 1.17 × 104 CFU exhibited clinical signs of inhalation anthrax yet survived. This study provides a description of lethality, pathophysiology, and pathology in a controlled multiple low-dose inhalation exposure study of B. anthracis in the rabbit model. The data suggest that the accumulated dose is important in survival outcome and that a subset of rabbits may show clinical signs of disease but fully recover without therapeutic intervention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number877
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2020


  • Anthrax
  • Bacillus anthracis
  • Dose-response
  • Low-dose
  • Multiple dose
  • Pathology
  • Physiological response

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases


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