The laboratory rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) belongs to the order Lagomorpha and the family Lep-oridae. A recent analysis has shown that the order Lagomorpha is phylogenetically more closely related to Primates and Scadentia than to Rodentia. The family Leporidae includes the genera Sylvilagus and Lepus which contain cottontails and jackrabbits, some of which may be confused with the true rabbit. O. cuniculus existed in antiquity only at the borders of the Mediterranean and was probably first domesticated by the Phoenicians. Today feral rabbits exist in widespread locations including Australia and South America.
The rabbit was prominent in early studies of immunology and basic questions about immunoglobulin genetics, including the phenomenon of allelic exclusion and the inheritance of idiotypes, were first answered with this species. Although it is obvious that the rabbit cannot replace the mouse in investigations requiring numerous genetically identical animals there is a niche for an animal of this size in biomedical research, and there are good reasons to consider the rabbit for certain studies.
The rabbit was used for a number of studies in transplantation and histocompatibility. Disease models for rheumatoid arthritis, myasthenia gravis, atherosclerosis, syphilis, herpesvirus infection, adult T cell leukemia-lymphoma (ATLL), and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection have been reported in this species.
In rabbits, arthritis can be induced by injecting a soluble antigen into the synovium of immune animals. This antigen-induced arthritis is similar to rheumatoid arthritis histologically and in its immune pathogenesis. Another autoimmune disease, myasthenia gravis, can be induced in the rabbit by immunization with nicotinic acetylcholine receptor. The immunized rabbits develop clinical signs of muscle weakness as do humans with the disease.
Experimental models for atherosclerosis involve the use of rabbits fed a high cholesterol diet or the Watanbe heritable hyperlipidemic (WHHL) rabbit.
The WHHL rabbit has a heritable defect in the EDI. receptor gene resulting in the production of a nonfunctional protein.
Syphilis can be experimentally induced by infection with Treponema pallidum. In many small animal models of syphilis the disease follows the course of the natural disease in humans. In rabbits the infection persists and viable T. pallidum can be readily isolated for the life of the animal.
The rabbit is widely used as a model for human T lymphotropic virus type I (HTLV-I) infection. In the rabbit, infection has been transmitted via blood transfusion and orally through mother's milk with transmission rates similar to those found for humans. While most infected rabbits remain free of overt signs of disease, inoculation with an HTL.V-I-trans-formed cell line (RH/K34) resulted in ATLL-likc disease manifested in lymphomas, lymphocyte infiltration of the viscera and thymic atrophy. In one rabbit similarly infected, a skin disease with symptoms associated with human cutaneous lymphoma was reported. The current availability of infectious molecular clones of HTLV-I derived from rabbit cell lines will further the development of the rabbit as a model for HTLV-I infection.
The use of the rabbit as a model for HIV-1 infection has been hampered by lack of consistent signs of disease in infected animals. HIV-1 can be detected in certain tissues from infected rabbits and CD4 lymphocytopenia has been reported in rabbits transfused with HIV-1-infected blood. In addition, the function of tat, rev and the long terminal repeats of the virus has been demonstrated in rabbit cells. Rabbits transgenic for the human CD4 gene have been described and their efficacy as a model for HIV infection is being evaluated.
Rabbits have been used in studies of gene therapy for diseases such as atherosclerosis and hemophilia. Genes can be delivered to the rabbit via adenovirus or retroviral vectors.
Was this article helpful?
This report may be oh so welcome especially if theres no doctor in the house Take Charge of Your Arthritis Now in less than 5-Minutes the time it takes to make an appointment with your healthcare provider Could you use some help understanding arthritis Maybe a little gentle, bedside manner in your battle for joint pain relief would be great Well, even if you are not sure if arthritis is the issue with you or your friend or loved one.