A series of studies was undertaken in specific-pathogen-free white leghorn chickens for the development of a chicken model of avian pathogenic Escherichia coli (APEC) peritonitis. Once established, this model was then used to measure the effectiveness of a siderophore receptor and porin proteins (SRP®) APEC vaccine. Initially, five pilot studies were performed to compare the E. coli serotype, challenge route, and dose of inoculum that resulted in pathologies characteristic of the peritonitis observed in commercial layer facilities, such as widespread organ infection, atrophy, discoloration, corrugation of yolk sacs, and the presence of caseous exudate. Isolates of serotypes O1, O2, and O78 were tested by intravenous, intravaginal, intratracheal, and intraperitoneal routes and were compared at various levels of challenge inoculum. Daily observations of mortality and morbidity were made, and at necropsy, gross lesion scores were collected and bacterial colonization of internal organs determined. Outcomes varied from a complete lack of mortality or detectable pathology and low, or no, organ colonization in the case of intravaginal and intratracheal routes with each E. coli serotype to moderate to high levels of mortality, pathology, and colonization after challenge via the intravenous and intraperitoneal routes with O2 and O78 serotypes, respectively. The O78 serotype was found to result in pathologies consistent with field observations of peritonitis, and therefore, subsequent studies were performed only with O78. In addition to the relative failure with both the intratracheal and intravaginal routes of challenge, the intravenous route was found to be inconsistent and often resulted in lameness not observed with the intraperitoneal route. A final pilot study confirmed that the dose (∼ 8 log 10 CFU) administered by the intraperitoneal route replicated peritonitis, and therefore, all vaccination/challenge studies were conducted in this manner. Five vaccination/challenge studies are reported here in which variables of chicken age, vaccination interval, and vaccination to challenge interval were examined. In all studies, vaccine effectiveness was dramatic and was shown to completely protect against mortality and substantially against tissue colonization and pathology typical of APEC infections. The vaccine elicited a rapid onset of immunity with both narrow and broad vaccination intervals and in both young and mature chickens. Additionally, the vaccine was demonstrated to sustain robust effectiveness against mortality over 3 months. The SRP APEC vaccine should provide effective protection of young and mature chickens from E. coli under broadly flexible conditions of use in commercial operations.
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Vol. 65 • No. 1