This study was devised to produce an animal model of hypersensitivity pneumonitis in order to study both the induction and the elicitation of the disease. Rabbits exposed by aerosol to large quantities of pigeon antigens developed a humoral, but not cellular, immunologic response. Moreover, their lungs were essentially normal histologically. A single i.v. injection of killed BCG in oil permitted the induction of pulmonary cell-medid hypersensitivity to the inhaled antigen, as well as the development of pulmonary lesions which were more severe than that caused by the administration of BCG alone. The humoral immunologic response to the inhaled antigen was not increased after BCG injection. Since many individuals are exposed to the etiologic agents of hypersensitivity pneumonitis for extended periods without developing the disease, these findings in animals suggest that some event may occur to induce cell mediated hypersensitivity in order to initiate the disease process. In addition, we have shown that animals with normal lung histology and circulating complement-fixing antibodies undergo serum complement (CH50) depression after an aerosol challenge with the specific antigen. Animals with circulating, complement-fixing antibodies, and inflamed lungs (BCG-induced failed to undergo a complement depression subsequent to an aerosol challenge with specific antigens. These results re consistent with those seen in symptomatic and asymptomatic pigeon breeders and suggest that antigen distribution through the lung is important in the pathogenesis of hypersensitivity pneumonitis.
V L Moore, G T Hensley, J N Fink