Polymorphonuclear neutrophil leukocytes (PMNL) from 8 healthy foals (2-14 weeks of age) and 2 foals with bacterial pneumonia were separated from whole blood using a 2 step Percoll gradient. Purified PMNL were tested for bacterial function against Rhodococcus equi and Staphylococcus aureus in the presence of normal horse serum. The percentage uptake after a 15-min pre-incubation of PMNL and bacteria was also calculated. Ultrastructural examination of the interaction of R. equi and normal foal PMNL was performed after 15 min incubation. Results indicated that foal PMNL effectively phagocytose and destroy R. equi and S. aureus in the presence of normal horse serum. The mean percent uptake for R. equi was 99.3±0.4% and for S. aureus 99.9±0.1%. Further, 97.8±0.1% ingested R. equi and 98.4±0.1% ingested S. aureus were destroyed in the 15-min incubation period. Over the 3-h incubation, 91.9% of remaining R. equi were killed, but only 49.2±31.9% of S. aureus (P<0.01). Total bactericidal effect of foal PMNL, however, was 99.3±0.4% against R. equi and 99.9±0.1% against S. aureus. The percentage uptake and total bactericidal efficacy of neutrophils from sick foals was >62;95%. Ultrastructural examination of the PMNL-R. equi interaction after 15 min incubation revealed phagocytosis of the bacteria and morphologic changes consistent with neutrophil degranulation. This study suggest that a defect in PMNL bactericidal capability is not likely to be a contributing factor in the pathogenesis of R. equi pneumonia in foals.
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