Critical role of bacterial dissemination in an infant rabbit model of bacillary dysentery.


The bacterial pathogen Shigella flexneri causes 270 million cases of bacillary dysentery (blood in stool) worldwide every year, resulting in more than 200,000 deaths. A major challenge in combating bacillary dysentery is the lack of a small-animal model that recapitulates the symptoms observed in infected individuals, including bloody diarrhea. Here, we show that similar to humans, infant rabbits infected with S. flexneri experience severe inflammation, massive ulceration of the colonic mucosa, and bloody diarrhea. T3SS-dependent invasion of epithelial cells is necessary and sufficient for mediating immune cell infiltration and vascular lesions. However, massive ulceration of the colonic mucosa, bloody diarrhea, and dramatic weight loss are strictly contingent on the ability of the bacteria to spread from cell to cell. The infant rabbit model features bacterial dissemination as a critical determinant of S. flexneri pathogenesis and provides a unique small-animal model for research and development of therapeutic interventions.