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African swine fever virus (ASFV) is the causative agent of African swine fever (ASF) that is the significant disease of domestic pigs. Several studies showed that ASFV can influence on porcine blood cells in vitro. Thus, we asked ourselves whether ASFV infection results in changes in porcine blood cells in vivo. A series of experiments were performed in order to investigate the effects of ASFV infection on porcine peripheral white blood cells. Nine pigs were inoculated by intramuscular injection with 104 50% hemadsorbing doses of virus (genotype II) distributed in Armenia and Georgia. The total number of fifteen cell types was calculated during experimental infection.
Although band-to-segmented neutrophils ratio became much higher (3.5) in infected pigs than in control group (0.3), marked neutropenia and lymphopenia were detected from 2 to 3 days post-infection. In addition to band neutrophils, the high number of other immature white blood cells, such as metamyelocytes, was observed during the course of infection. From the beginning of infection, atypical lymphocytes, with altered nuclear shape, arose and became 15% of total cells in the final phase of infection. Image scanning cytometry revealed hyperdiploid DNA content in atypical lymphocytes only from 5 days post-infection, indicating that DNA synthesis in pathological lymphocytes occurred in the later stages of infection.
From this study, it can be concluded that ASFV infection leads to serious changes in composition of white blood cells. Particularly, acute ASFV infection in vivo is accompanied with the emergence of immature cells and atypical lymphocytes in the host blood. The mechanisms underlying atypical cell formation remain to be elucidated.