Flow cytometric assays were used to compare phagocytic and oxidative burst activity of neutrophils from healthy foals less than 7 days of age with the activity of cells from healthy adult horses. The phagocytosis of Staphylococcus aureus by foal neutrophils was less than that observed for adult neutrophils when autologous serum was used as the source of opsonins in the assay. The use of adult serum did not significantly improve the ability of foal neutrophils to attach bacteria. The oxidative burst activity of foal neutrophils was equivalent to that of adult cells. However, when serum or plasma was incorporated into the oxidative burst assay, foal neutrophils demonstrated greatly reduced autofluorescence and a suppressed response to phorbol myristate acetate (PMA), relative to that demonstrated by adult cells. These results suggest that peripheral blood neutrophils from foals have a reduced ability to phagocytose bacteria relative to that exhibited by adult horse neutrophils and that the oxidative burst activity of foal neutrophils is down-regulated in response to an unidentified serum factor(s). Such changes may contribute to the increased susceptibility of foals to septic disease
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