In previous studies, the embryo lethality assay (ELA) was able to discriminate between virulent and avirulent avian Escherichia coli isolates and to predict percent mortality of the embryos resulting from an isolate based on three traits. The abilities to resist host complement, presence of Colicin V activity, and presence of the increased serum survival gene cluster (iss), were used together in a logistic regression analysis to predict the percentage of embryo deaths resulting from each of 20 avian E. coli isolates used in the ELA. In the present study, the same 20 isolates are used in an intravenous chicken challenge model in an effort to determine whether the ELA could be used to replace chicken challenge studies. Correlations between the mortality and a combination of mortality and morbidity (the survivors at trial termination with lesions suggestive of colibacillosis) and the previous ELA results and with selected isolate traits were performed. Additionally, resulting body weights in surviving chickens were compared between groups. The highest positive correlations were observed between the ELA and the combined mortality/morbidity of the intravenous challenge (r = 0.861, P < 0.0001 for the first ELA challenge, and r = 0.830, P < 0.0001 for the second ELA challenge). The IV challenge combined mortality/morbidity results had the highest correlation coefficients with the presence of iss (r = 0.864, P < 0.0001) and the expression of ColV (r = 0.878, P < 0.0001). The presence of tsh was slightly correlated with mortality (r = 0.465, P = .0389) but demonstrated a higher correlation with the combined mortality and morbidity of the IV challenge (r = 0.558, P = 0.0106). Even though the ELA results in a higher number of nonspecific deaths, the two challenge methods exhibit similar results and a high correlation with each other. Interestingly, some of the isolates showed differences in their ability to cause mortality between the ELA and the IV challenge model. Furthermore, some isolates reflected significant differences in body weights of surviving birds at IV trial termination.
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