Bordetella pertussis, Bordetella parapertussis, and Bordetella bronchiseptica are closely related subspecies that cause respiratory tract infections in humans and other mammals and express many similar virulence factors. Their lipopolysaccharide (LPS) molecules differ, containing either a complex trisaccharide (B. pertussis), a trisaccharide plus an O-antigen-like repeat (B. bronchiseptica), or an altered trisaccharide plus an O-antigen-like repeat (B. parapertussis). Deletion of the wlb locus results in the loss of membrane-distal polysaccharide domains in the three subspecies of bordetellae, leaving LPS molecules consisting of lipid A and core oligosaccharide. We have used wlb deletion (Deltawlb) mutants to investigate the roles of distal LPS structures in respiratory tract infection by bordetellae. Each mutant was defective compared to its parent strain in colonization of the respiratory tracts of BALB/c mice, but the location in the respiratory tract and the time point at which defects were observed differed significantly. Although the Deltawlb mutants were much more sensitive to complement-mediated killing in vitro, they displayed similar defects in respiratory tract colonization in C5(-/-) mice compared with wild-type (wt) mice, indicating that increased sensitivity to complement-mediated lysis is not sufficient to explain the in vivo defects. B. pertussis and B. parapertussis Deltawlb mutants were also defective compared to wt strains in colonization of SCID-beige mice, indicating that the defects were not limited to interactions with adaptive immunity. Interestingly, the B. bronchiseptica Deltawlb strain was defective, compared to the wt strain, in colonization of the respiratory tracts of BALB/c mice beginning 1 week postinoculation but did not differ from the wt strain in its ability to colonize the respiratory tracts of B-cell- and T-cell-deficient mice, suggesting that wlb-dependent LPS modifications in B. bronchiseptica modulate interactions with adaptive immunity. These data show that biosynthesis of a full-length LPS molecule by these three bordetellae is essential for the expression of full virulence for mice. In addition, the data indicate that the different distal structures modifying the LPS molecules on these three closely related subspecies serve different purposes in respiratory tract infection, highlighting the diversity of functions attributable to LPS of gram-negative bacteria.