A group led by Dr. Olaf Schneewind at The University of Chicago has proposed Brown Norway rats as a new model for plague vaccine development.
Pneumonic plague is the most virulent form of infection caused by Yersinia pestis. Unlike bubonic plague, pneumonic plague can be transmitted from person to person, and pneumonic plague is often fatal if treatment is not initiated within twelve hours of fever onset. There is currently no licensed vaccine for plague. Given the recent increase in multi-drug resistant microbes, it is imperative to develop a vaccine for plague.
Multiple animal models must be used to evaluate the efficacy of plague vaccines because human clinical trials that test new vaccines are not feasible. Anderson et al propose using Brown Norway rats as an alternate model to mice for studying plague vaccine performance because of their larger size and epidemiological association with Y. pestis infection. These rats succumb to pneumonic plague rapidly, within two to four days, with similar disease progression as in humans. Brown Norway rats could be protected from disease by vaccination with either the protective antigen LcrV or its mutant derivative V10. These results validate the use of Brown Norway rats to study plague pathogenesis and immunity.
Dr. Schneewind and colleagues "focused ... on the Brown Norway rat due to close similarities between rat and human bubonic plague. [They] describe the Brown Norway rat as a model for pneumonic plague and its use in the evaluation of LcrV plague vaccines."
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