Current porcine pleuropneumonia bacterins afford only partial protection by decreasing mortality but not morbidity. In order to better understand the type(s) of immune response associated with protection, antibody- and cell-mediated immune responses (CMIR) were compared for piglets before and after administration of a commercial bacterin, which confers partial protection, or a low-dose (10(5) CFU/ml) aerosol challenge with Actinobacillus pleuropneumoniae CM5 (LD), which induces complete protection. Control groups received phosphate-buffered saline or adjuvant. Serum antibody response, antibody avidity, delayed-type hypersensitivity (DTH), and lymphocyte blastogenic responses were measured and compared among treatment groups to the lipopolysaccharide (LPS), capsular polysaccharide (CPS), hemolysin (HLY), and outer membrane proteins (OMP) of A. pleuropneumoniae. Peripheral blood lymphocytes and sera were collected prior to and following primary and secondary immunization-infection and high-dose A. pleuropneumoniae CM5 (10(7) CFU/ml) aerosol challenge. Serum antibody and DTH, particularly that to HLY, differed significantly between treatment groups, and increases were associated with protection. LD-infected piglets had higher antibody responses (P < or = 0.01) and antibody avidity (P < or = 0.10) than bacterin-vaccinated and control groups. Anti-HLY antibodies were consistently associated with protection, whereas anti-LPS and anti-CPS antibodies were not. LD-infected animals had higher DTH responses, particularly to HLY, than bacterin-vaccinated pigs (P < or = 0.03). The LD-infected group maintained consistent blastogenic responses to HLY, LPS, CPS, and OMP over the course of infection, unlike the bacterin-vaccinated and control animals. These data suggest that the immune responses induced by a commercial bacterin are very different from those induced by LD aerosol infection and that current bacterins may be modified, for instance, by addition of HLY, so as to stimulate responses which better reflect those induced by LD infection.