In vivo and in vitro studies recently showed that intestinal permeability to cow’s milk proteins such as β-lactoglobulin increased transiently in infant rabbits infected by the enteroadherent Escherichia coli strain RDEC-1 at weaning. The consequences of this enhanced permeability for local anaphylactic and/or systemic immune responses were studied in infected and age-matched control rabbits at weaning, given either water or cow’s milk diluted in water in addition to their solid diet. The systemic immune response was determined by measuring IgG, IgA, IgM, and IgE antibodies to cow’s milk proteins. A rise in IgG and IgM, but not IgA or IgE, antibody titres to milk protein was observed. Further, infected milk-drinking rabbits had significantly higher β-lactoglobulin and casein IgG titres than milk-drinking controls. The anaphylactic response was tested by mounting ileal segments in Ussing chambers, adding the milk proteins to the serosal side of the tissue and recording the variation in short-circuit current in order to detect any electrogenic chloride secretion. No change in short-circuit current was observed in the presence of milk proteins in infected or age-matched control milk-drinking rabbits, indicating the absence of any immediate hypersensitivity reaction. These results indicate that at weaning, the rabbit is not prone to developing anaphylactic responses to milk proteins. The rise in milk protein IgG antibodies that followed infection with RDEC-1 might favour the elimination of milk protein-IgG immune complexes from the systemic circulation. The present results emphasize the evidence that genetic background and/or animal species greatly influence the immune response to an antigenic load.

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