The virulence factor pertactin (Prn) is a component of pertussis vaccines and one of the most polymorphic Bordetella pertussis antigens. After the introduction of vaccination shifts in predominant Prn types were observed and strains with the Prn vaccine type (Prn1) were replaced by strains carrying non-vaccine types (Prn2 and Prn3), suggesting vaccine-driven selection. The aim of this study was to elucidate the shifts observed in Prn variants. We show that, although Prn2 and Prn3 circulated in similar frequencies in the 1970s and 1980s, in the 1990s Prn2 strains expanded and Prn3 strains disappeared, suggesting that in vaccinated populations Prn2 strains are fitter than Prn3 strains. We established a role for Prn in the mouse model by showing that a Prn knock-out (Prn-ko) mutation reduced colonization in trachea and lungs. Restoration of the mutation resulted in a significant increase in colonization compared to the knock-out mutant. The ability of clinical isolates with different Prn variants to colonize the mouse lung was compared. Although these isolates were also polymorphic at other loci, only variation in the promoter for pertussis toxin (ptxP) and Prn were found to contribute significantly to differences in colonization. Analysis of a subset of strains with the same ptxP allele revealed that the ability to colonize mice decreased in the order Prn1. Prn2 and Prn3. Our results are consistent with the predominance of Prn1 strains in unvaccinated populations. Our results show that ability to colonize mice is practically the same for Prn2 and Prn3. Therefore other factors may have contributed to the predominance of Prn2 in vaccinated populations. The mouse model may be useful to assess and predict changes in the B. pertussis population due to vaccination.