Porphyromonas gingivalis is implicated in the etiology of periodontitis. Strains of P. gingivalis have been classified as invasive or noninvasive based on their ability to form abscesses in a mouse model. The purpose of this study was to investigate the ability of P. gingivalis strains to cause abscesses and periodontal bone loss in an experimental rat model and the effect of serum and salivary responses on the pathogenicity of these strains. Subcutaneous injection of animals with P. gingivalis 33277, A7A1-28, W50 or 381 resulted in abscesses in a higher percentage of mice than rats. P. gingivalis 33277 caused lesions at the site of injection, whereas strains A7A1-28 and W50 induced abscesses at distant sites in both mice and rats. Local lesions were seen in rats injected with strain 381, whereas lesions formed distant from the site of injection in mice. When periodontal bone loss was assessed in the experimental rat model, animals challenged with 33277 had the highest amount of horizontal and vertical bone loss. Rats challenged with strain A7A1-28, W50 or 381 had some or no periodontal bone loss compared with controls. Assessment of antibody responses to P. gingivalis in these animals revealed that rats challenged with 33277 had lower levels of serum immunoglobulin G (IgG) and especially salivary IgA antibody activity than A7A1-28-challenged rats. Serum IgG and in particular salivary IgA anti-P. gingivalis responses were seen in W50- and 381-challenged rats. These results indicate that the ability of P. gingivalis strains to cause abscesses does not relate directly to their periodontal pathogenicity as assessed by periodontal bone loss in the same animal model. The results further suggest the importance of salivary IgA antibody responses in protection against experimental periodontal bone loss after challenge with P. gingivalis.