To test the hypothesis that walls of air capillaries are a site for Escherichia coli to pass the air-blood barrier, fimbriated and nonfimbriated strains of E. coli were inoculated intratracheally into 18-day-old turkeys. Venous blood was cultured, and turkeys were necropsied from 0.5 to 8 hours post-inoculation. Lungs were processed for histopathology and electron microscopy. E. coli 078 was identified ultrastructurally using rabbit anti-lipopolysaccharide antibody and protein A-colloidal gold. All birds developed bacteremia; there was no significant difference between groups given fimbriated or nonfimbriated bacteria. Bacteria adhered to the plasma membrane of air capillary epithelial cells and were seen within vacuoles of portions of these cells that lined the fornices of air capillaries. Bacteria were also seen in the basement membrane at the basal surface of air capillary epithelial cells and, rarely, in vacuoles of subjacent endothelial cells. Infected granular and nongranular cells that lined air atria were necrotic 4 hours post-inoculation. Bacteria were within the overlying trilaminar substance and between reticular fibers of the interstitial stroma and pleura at 30 minutes postinfection and thereafter. Thus, the pulmonary air capillaries are a site for entrance of E. coli into the pulmonary blood capillaries, but fimbriae play little or no role in passage across the air-blood barrier.
M. Ackermann, N. Cheville