The current study was designed to investigate the impact of genetic heterogeneity on host immune responses to pulmonary intracellular infection by using two mouse strains of distinct genetic background, C57BL/6 and BALB/c mice, and a model intracellular pathogen,
Mycobacterium bovisBCG. Upon infection, compared to C57BL/6 mice, BALB/c mice developed an earlier response of interleukin 12 (IL-12), gamma interferon (IFN-γ), tumor necrosis factor alpha, and macrophage chemoattractive protein 1, and greater neutrophilic influx to the lung by days 7 and 14. However, the level of these cytokines at days 27, 43, and 71 was much lower in BALB/c mice than in C57BL/6 mice. The magnitude of cellular responses was also much lower in the lung of BALB/c mice around day 27. Histologically, while C57BL/6 mice developed lymphocytic granulomas, BALB/c mice displayed atypical granulomas in the lung. Of importance, the level of type 2 cytokines IL-4 and IL-10 remained low and similar in the lung of both C57BL/6 and BALB/c mice throughout. Furthermore, lymphocytes isolated from systemic and local lymphoid tissues of infected BALB/c mice demonstrated a markedly lower antigen-specific IFN-γ recall response. While the number of mycobacterial bacilli recovered from both the lung and spleen of BALB/c mice was similar to that in C57BL/6 mice at day 14, it was higher than that in C57BL/6 mice at day 43. However, it was eventually leveled off to that in C57BL/6 counterparts later. These results suggest the following: (i) genetic heterogeneity can lead to differential innate and adaptive cell-mediated immune responses to primary pulmonary mycobacterial infection; (ii) it is the level of adaptive, but not innate, immune response that is critical to host resistance; and (iii) a lower type 1 immune response in BALB/c mice is not accompanied by a heightened type 2 response during pulmonary mycobacterial infection.