The colonizing capacities of 16 Vibrio cholerae strains, including nine genetically and/or phenotypically defined parent-mutant pairs, were determined in unobstructed adult rabbit small bowel. There were marked interstrain differences in colonizing capacity, which was enhanced by bacterial motility and the production of cholera holotoxin but was unrelated to production of cholera toxin B-subunit or hemolysin or to bacterial serotype or biotype. The role of colonizing capacity and other bacterial features in determining the immunizing efficiency of live V. cholerae was studied by determining the efficiency with which graded inocula of each strain immunized against attempted recolonization of the ileum or induction of choleralike diarrhea by the RITARD (removable intestinal tie-adult rabbit diarrhea) challenge technique using standard inocula of virulent V. cholerae. Mucosal colonizing capacity was the only quantitative predictor of bacterial immunizing capacity; none of the other bacterial features cited above influenced bacterial immunogenicity against either type of challenge, except as they affected colonizing capacity. Live V. cholerae immunized much more efficiently than Formalin-killed bacteria; the former caused marked protection after a single inoculum of 10(2) CFU, whereas the latter gave only partial protection after three inoculations of 10(11) killed organisms. Protection induced by live bacteria was due largely to resistance to colonization and included marked inhibition of bacterial growth within the bowel lumen. These findings strongly suggest that an optimally efficient oral cholera vaccine would be composed of avirulent live V. cholerae selected for their capacity to colonize the small-bowel mucosa
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