Of 50 rabbits, otherwise regarded as normal, three adult females and two adult males (10 per cent) have been found to have in their genitoperineal region certain papulosquamous, often ulcerating, lesions. A recently purchased group of twenty rabbits contained six females (30 per cent) with similar lesions. This condition runs a chronic course and is characterized by the presence of a spiral organism closely resembling Treponema pallidum.
The rabbit spirochete has the same morphological features as Treponema pallidum; it is possibly a trifle thicker and longer than the average pallidum. Long specimens measuring 30 µ are frequently encountered, and they show a tendency to form loosely entangled knots. A stellate arrangement of several organisms in a mass is frequently observed.
In the lesion of one rabbit there were two types of spirochete, one of the variety just described, the other a somewhat coarser organism, closely resembling Treponema calligyrum found in a human condyloma, but a trifle thinner and longer. This organism is perhaps merely a variant type of the rabbit spirochete.
The histological reactions are similar to, but considerably less cellular, than those occurring in typical primary syphilitic lesions. There is a marked hyperkeratosis and interpapillary infiltration not observed in scrotal chancre.
The disease is transmissible to normal rabbits, in which the usual papular lesions can be readily reproduced in the genitoperineal region. In the first passages the incubation period varied from 20 to 88 days; subsequently one of the strains produced a lesion in 20 days on the second, and in 5 days on the third passage. No typical orchitis or keratitis was produced in the rabbits of the present series, although in one of the original rabbits (No. 4) scaly, papular lesions have developed on the nose, lips, eyelid, and paws. Monkeys (Macacus rhesus) failed to show any lesions within a period of 4 months after inoculation.
In one instance transmission was accomplished through the mating of an infected female with a normal male.
The Wassermann reaction was uniformly negative in the five rabbits with spontaneous lesions and in eighteen rabbits experimentally infected.
Salvarsan had the same therapeutic effect on the lesions produced by the rabbit spirochete as on the experimental pallidum lesion of the rabbit.
The organism belongs to the genus Treponema, and may be designated Treponema cuniculi.