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The effects of immunization in modulating the pathogenesis of Bacteroides (Porphyromonas) gingivalis infection in a murine model system were examined. BALB/c mice were immunized by intraperitoneal injection with B. gingivalis ATCC 53977 (one injection per week for 3 weeks), or with a lithium diiodosalicylate (LIS) extract (one injection per week for 3 weeks), or with lipopolysaccharide (LPS; one intravenous or intraperitoneal injection) from this same strain. Two weeks after the final immunization, the mice were challenged by subcutaneous injection of B. gingivalis ATCC 53977. Mice immunized with bacteria had no secondary lesions and no septicemia, whereas mice immunized with LIS extract had few secondary lesions and no septicemia. Mice immunized with LPS and nonimmunized mice demonstrated secondary abdominal lesions and septicemia after challenge. Bacterial cells and LIS extract, but not LPS, induced serum antibody and antigen reactive lymphocytes, as measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, immunoblot, Western immunoblot transfer, and in vitro lymphoproliferative responses. The present study suggests that immunization with a LIS extract or whole cells may induce a protective response against experimental B. gingivalis infection.