A widespread dissemination of Treponema pallidum from a local focus of inoculation in the rabbit constantly occurs by way of the lymphatics. Spirochetes were regularly recovered from the satellite lymph nodes by animal inoculation after scrotal inoculation; they were present as early as 2 days, when no specific primary reaction was detected, and at later periods of from 5 to 61 days after inoculation. Other superficial nodes at remote sites such as the popliteals and with no syphilitic lesions in the drainage area have also been shown to harbor active organisms. Although spirochetes were found in relatively few of the lymph node emulsions, the orchitis resulting from their injection was of a rapidly progressive type with an incubation period but slightly longer than that produced by a testicular or skin nodule emulsion rich in spirochetes.
It has further been shown that a syphilitic infection is sufficiently established in the rabbit body within 48 hours after scrotal inoculation so that the primary lesion is no longer essential for its maintenance.
Active treponemata survive in the popliteal lymph nodes for long periods of time and have been regularly recovered from them in cases of true latency. The lymph nodes, therefore, function as reservoirs of the organisms. The ability to recover the spirochetes from lymphoid tissue through successive generations is seen in the serial passage of lymph node emulsion to testicle during an 18 months period.
The persistence of spirochetes in lymphoid tissue irrespective of the presence or absence of syphilitic lesions is a characteristic and fundamental feature of syphilis of the rabbit. The existence of infection, therefore, may be demonstrated at any time by the recovery of spirochetes from the popliteal lymph nodes by animal inoculation. This fact is of great practical importance in the therapy of the infection and may be profitably utilized in determining the ultimate effect of a therapeutic agent.
These experiments demonstrate that the disease is not confined to the site of local inoculation but that lymphogenous dissemination of treponemata regularly takes place, and that during the course of this process organisms become localized in the lymph nodes and exist there indefinitely irrespective of the occurrence of manifestations of disease. The intimate relation of Treponema pallidum to lymphoid tissue is an essential concept of syphilis of the rabbit, and from this point of view, the infection is primarily one of lymphoid tissue.