Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Agriculture, Food and Environment


Veterinary Science

First Advisor

Dr. David Horohov

Second Advisor

Dr. Alan Loynachan


While Rhodococcus equi (R. equi) remains the most common cause of subacute or chronic granulomatous bronchopneumonia in foals, development of a relevant model to study this bacterium has proven difficult. As a result, the reasons for the underlying foal’s susceptibility to this disease are not well understood. Furthermore, data regarding the immune response of foals to R. equi infection remains controversial. We hypothesized that foals are susceptible to R. equi early in life and that this susceptibility decreases with age. Also, we hypothesized that specific subclasses of IgG antibodies to the virulence-associated protein of R. equi, VapA, predict the outcome of exposure.

The objectives of this study were: (1) to develop an R. equi challenge model that resulted in slow progressive disease in some foals as well as spontaneous regression of lesions in others, (2) using the developed model, to investigate the age-related susceptibility of young foals to R. equi, (3) to describe the humoral immune response of foals following experimental challenge and natural infection.

The use of a low dose of R. equi to challenge neonatal foals resulted in slow, progressive disease characterized by pulmonary abscessation and spontaneous regression in approximately 50% of the foals. When this low dose was used in 1, 2 or 3-week-old foals, a marked decrease in disease susceptibility was observed as the foals aged. The immunological responses seen after experimental challenge reflect those observed after natural infection. While there was a significant increase of VapA-specific IgG and IgG subclasses over time in both pneumonic and healthy foals, use of VapA-specific IgG(T) showed good sensitivity and specificity when used as a diagnostic tool for R. equi pneumonia.

In summary, this study shows that foal susceptibility to R. equi occurs early in life and decreases with age. Whereas all foals developed VapA-specific IgG antibodies post-exposure, IgG(T) appeared to be predictive of infection.