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1.  Spatiotemporal Analysis of the Genetic Diversity of Seal Influenza A(H10N7) Virus, Northwestern Europe 
Journal of Virology  2016;90(9):4269-4277.
Influenza A viruses are major pathogens for humans, domestic animals, and wildlife, and these viruses occasionally cross the species barrier. In spring 2014, increased mortality of harbor seals (Phoca vitulina), associated with infection with an influenza A(H10N7) virus, was reported in Sweden and Denmark. Within a few months, this virus spread to seals of the coastal waters of Germany and the Netherlands, causing the death of thousands of animals. Genetic analysis of the hemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase (NA) genes of this seal influenza A(H10N7) virus revealed that it was most closely related to various avian influenza A(H10N7) viruses. The collection of samples from infected seals during the course of the outbreak provided a unique opportunity to follow the adaptation of the avian virus to its new seal host. Sequence data for samples collected from 41 different seals from four different countries between April 2014 and January 2015 were obtained by Sanger sequencing and next-generation sequencing to describe the molecular epidemiology of the seal influenza A(H10N7) virus. The majority of sequence variation occurred in the HA gene, and some mutations corresponded to amino acid changes not found in H10 viruses isolated from Eurasian birds. Also, sequence variation in the HA gene was greater at the beginning than at the end of the epidemic, when a number of the mutations observed earlier had been fixed. These results imply that when an avian influenza virus jumps the species barrier from birds to seals, amino acid changes in HA may occur rapidly and are important for virus adaptation to its new mammalian host.
IMPORTANCE Influenza A viruses are major pathogens for humans, domestic animals, and wildlife. In addition to the continuous circulation of influenza A viruses among various host species, cross-species transmission of influenza A viruses occurs occasionally. Wild waterfowl and shorebirds are the main reservoir for most influenza A virus subtypes, and spillover of influenza A viruses from birds to humans or other mammalian species may result in major outbreaks. In the present study, various sequencing methods were used to elucidate the genetic changes that occurred after the introduction and subsequent spread of an avian influenza A(H10N7) virus among harbor seals of northwestern Europe by use of various samples collected during the outbreak. Such detailed knowledge of genetic changes necessary for introduction and adaptation of avian influenza A viruses to mammalian hosts is important for a rapid risk assessment of such viruses soon after they cross the species barrier.
PMCID: PMC4836327  PMID: 26819311
2.  Influenza A (H10N7) Virus Causes Respiratory Tract Disease in Harbor Seals and Ferrets 
PLoS ONE  2016;11(7):e0159625.
Avian influenza viruses sporadically cross the species barrier to mammals, including humans, in which they may cause epidemic disease. Recently such an epidemic occurred due to the emergence of avian influenza virus of the subtype H10N7 (Seal/H10N7) in harbor seals (Phoca vitulina). This epidemic caused high mortality in seals along the north-west coast of Europe and represented a potential risk for human health. To characterize the spectrum of lesions and to identify the target cells and viral distribution, findings in 16 harbor seals spontaneously infected with Seal/H10N7 are described. The seals had respiratory tract inflammation extending from the nasal cavity to bronchi associated with intralesional virus antigen in respiratory epithelial cells. Virus infection was restricted to the respiratory tract. The fatal outcome of the viral infection in seals was most likely caused by secondary bacterial infections. To investigate the pathogenic potential of H10N7 infection for humans, we inoculated the seal virus intratracheally into six ferrets and performed pathological and virological analyses at 3 and 7 days post inoculation. These experimentally inoculated ferrets displayed mild clinical signs, virus excretion from the pharynx and respiratory tract inflammation extending from bronchi to alveoli that was associated with virus antigen expression exclusively in the respiratory epithelium. Virus was isolated only from the respiratory tract. In conclusion, Seal/H10N7 infection in naturally infected harbor seals and experimentally infected ferrets shows that respiratory epithelial cells are the permissive cells for viral replication. Fatal outcome in seals was caused by secondary bacterial pneumonia similar to that in fatal human cases during influenza pandemics. Productive infection of ferrets indicates that seal/H10N7 may possess a zoonotic potential. This outbreak of LPAI from wild birds to seals demonstrates the risk of such occasions for mammals and thus humans.
PMCID: PMC4957826  PMID: 27448168
3.  Neurotropic virus infections as the cause of immediate and delayed neuropathology 
Acta Neuropathologica  2015;131:159-184.
A wide range of viruses from different virus families in different geographical areas, may cause immediate or delayed neuropathological changes and neurological manifestations in humans and animals. Infection by neurotropic viruses as well as the resulting immune response can irreversibly disrupt the complex structural and functional architecture of the central nervous system, frequently leaving the patient or affected animal with a poor or fatal prognosis. Mechanisms that govern neuropathogenesis and immunopathogenesis of viral infections are highlighted, using examples of well-studied virus infections that are associated with these alterations in different populations throughout the world. A better understanding of the molecular, epidemiological and biological characteristics of these infections and in particular of mechanisms that underlie their clinical manifestations may be expected to provide tools for the development of more effective intervention strategies and treatment regimens.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00401-015-1511-3) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4713712  PMID: 26659576
Central nervous system; Neuropathology; Neuroinfectiology; Virus infection; Alphavirus; Bornavirus; Bunyavirus; Flavivirus; Herpesvirus; Influenza virus; Paramyxovirus; Picornavirus; Rhabdovirus
4.  TECPR2 Associated Neuroaxonal Dystrophy in Spanish Water Dogs 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(11):e0141824.
Clinical, pathological and genetic examination revealed an as yet uncharacterized juvenile-onset neuroaxonal dystrophy (NAD) in Spanish water dogs. Affected dogs presented with various neurological deficits including gait abnormalities and behavioral deficits. Histopathology demonstrated spheroid formation accentuated in the grey matter of the cerebral hemispheres, the cerebellum, the brain stem and in the sensory pathways of the spinal cord. Iron accumulation was absent. Ultrastructurally spheroids contained predominantly closely packed vesicles with a double-layered membrane, which were characterized as autophagosomes using immunohistochemistry. The family history of the four affected dogs suggested an autosomal recessive inheritance. SNP genotyping showed a single genomic region of extended homozygosity of 4.5 Mb in the four cases on CFA 8. Linkage analysis revealed a maximal parametric LOD score of 2.5 at this region. By whole genome re-sequencing of one affected dog, a perfectly associated, single, non-synonymous coding variant in the canine tectonin beta-propeller repeat-containing protein 2 (TECPR2) gene affecting a highly conserved region was detected (c.4009C>T or p.R1337W). This canine NAD form displays etiologic parallels to an inherited TECPR2 associated type of human hereditary spastic paraparesis (HSP). In contrast to the canine NAD, the spinal cord lesions in most types of human HSP involve the sensory and the motor pathways. Furthermore, the canine NAD form reveals similarities to cases of human NAD defined by widespread spheroid formation without iron accumulation in the basal ganglia. Thus TECPR2 should also be considered as candidate gene for human NAD. Immunohistochemistry and the ultrastructural findings further support the assumption, that TECPR2 regulates autophagosome accumulation in the autophagic pathways. Consequently, this report provides the first genetic characterization of juvenile canine NAD, describes the histopathological features associated with the TECPR2 mutation and provides evidence to emphasize the association between failure of autophagy and neurodegeneration.
PMCID: PMC4640708  PMID: 26555167
5.  Pathology in Captive Wild Felids at German Zoological Gardens 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(6):e0130573.
This retrospective study provides an overview on spontaneous diseases occurring in 38 captive wild felids submitted for necropsy by German zoological gardens between 2004 and 2013. Species included 18 tigers, 8 leopards, 7 lions, 3 cheetahs and 2 cougars with an age ranging from 0.5 to 22 years. Renal lesions, predominantly tubular alterations (intra-tubular concrements, tubular degeneration, necrosis, intra-tubular cellular debris, proteinaceous casts, dilated tubuli) followed by interstitial (lympho-plasmacytic inflammation, fibrosis, metastatic-suppurative inflammation, eosinophilic inflammation) and glomerular lesions (glomerulonephritis, glomerulosclerosis, amyloidosis) were detected in 33 out of 38 animals (87%). Tumors were found in 19 of 38 felids (50%) with 12 animals showing more than one neoplasm. The tumor prevalence increased with age. Neoplasms originated from endocrine (11), genital (8), lympho-hematopoietic (5) and alimentary organs (4) as well as the mesothelium (3). Most common neoplasms comprised uterine/ovarian leiomyomas (5/2), thyroid adenomas/adenocarcinoma (5/1), pleural mesotheliomas (3), hemangiosarcomas (2) and glossal papillomas (2). Inflammatory changes were frequently encountered in the intestine and the lung. Two young animals displayed metastatic mineralization suggestive of a vitamin D- or calcium intoxication. One tiger exhibited degenerative white matter changes consistent with an entity termed large felid leukoencephalomyelopathy. Various hyperplastic, degenerative and inflammatory changes with minor clinical significance were found in several organs. Summarized, renal lesions followed by neoplastic changes as well as inflammatory changes in lung and gastrointestinal tract represent the most frequent findings in captive wild felids living in German zoological gardens.
PMCID: PMC4472349  PMID: 26086731
6.  A Missense Change in the ATG4D Gene Links Aberrant Autophagy to a Neurodegenerative Vacuolar Storage Disease 
PLoS Genetics  2015;11(4):e1005169.
Inherited neurodegenerative disorders are debilitating diseases that occur across different species. We have performed clinical, pathological and genetic studies to characterize a novel canine neurodegenerative disease present in the Lagotto Romagnolo dog breed. Affected dogs suffer from progressive cerebellar ataxia, sometimes accompanied by episodic nystagmus and behavioral changes. Histological examination revealed unique pathological changes, including profound neuronal cytoplasmic vacuolization in the nervous system, as well as spheroid formation and cytoplasmic aggregation of vacuoles in secretory epithelial tissues and mesenchymal cells. Genetic analyses uncovered a missense change, c.1288G>A; p.A430T, in the autophagy-related ATG4D gene on canine chromosome 20 with a highly significant disease association (p = 3.8 x 10-136) in a cohort of more than 2300 Lagotto Romagnolo dogs. ATG4D encodes a poorly characterized cysteine protease belonging to the macroautophagy pathway. Accordingly, our histological analyses indicated altered autophagic flux in affected tissues. The knockdown of the zebrafish homologue atg4da resulted in a widespread developmental disturbance and neurodegeneration in the central nervous system. Our study describes a previously unknown canine neurological disease with particular pathological features and implicates the ATG4D protein as an important autophagy mediator in neuronal homeostasis. The canine phenotype serves as a model to delineate the disease-causing pathological mechanism(s) and ATG4D function, and can also be used to explore treatment options. Furthermore, our results reveal a novel candidate gene for human neurodegeneration and enable the development of a genetic test for veterinary diagnostic and breeding purposes.
Author Summary
Neurodegenerative disorders affect millions of people worldwide. We describe a novel neurodegenerative disease in a canine model, characterized by progressive cerebellar ataxia and cellular vacuolization. Our genetic analyses identified a single nucleotide change in the autophagy-related ATG4D gene in affected dogs. The ATG4D gene has not been linked to inherited diseases before. The autophagy-lysosome pathway plays an important role in degrading and recycling different cellular components. Disturbed autophagy has been reported in several different diseases but mutations in core autophagy components are rare. Histological analyses of affected canine brain tissues revealed altered autophagic flux, and a knockdown of the gene in the zebrafish model caused marked neurodevelopmental alterations and neurodegeneration. Our findings identify a new disease-causing pathway and implicate the ATG4D protease as an important mediator for neuronal homeostasis. Furthermore, our study establishes a large animal model to investigate the role of ATG4D in autophagy and to test possible treatment options.
PMCID: PMC4398399  PMID: 25875846
7.  Avian Influenza A(H10N7) Virus–Associated Mass Deaths among Harbor Seals 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2015;21(4):720-722.
PMCID: PMC4378483  PMID: 25811303
influenza A virus; harbor seals; H10N7; viruses; Germany; influenza; Phoca vitulina
8.  DNA-based diagnosis of rare diseases in veterinary medicine: a 4.4 kb deletion of ITGB4 is associated with epidermolysis bullosa in Charolais cattle 
Rare diseases in livestock animals are traditionally poorly diagnosed. Other than clinical description and pathological examination, the underlying causes have, for the most part, remained unknown. A single case of congenital skin fragility in cattle was observed, necropsy, histological and ultrastructural examinations were carried out and whole genome sequencing was utilized to identify the causative mutation.
A single purebred female Charolais calf with severe skin lesions was delivered full-term and died spontaneously after birth. The clinical and pathological findings exactly matched the gross description given by previous reports on epitheliogenesis imperfecta and epidermolysis bullosa (EB) in cattle. Histological and ultrastructural changes were consistent with EB junctionalis (EBJ). Genetic analysis revealed a previously unpublished ITGB4 loss-of-function mutation; the affected calf was homozygous for a 4.4 kb deletion involving exons 17 to 22, and the dam carried a single copy of the deletion indicating recessive inheritance. The homozygous mutant genotype did not occur in healthy controls of various breeds but some heterozygous carriers were found among Charolais cattle belonging to the affected herd. The mutant allele was absent in a representative sample of unrelated sires of the German Charolais population.
This is the first time in which a recessively inherited ITGB4 associated EBJ has been reported in cattle. The identification of heterozygous carriers is of importance in avoiding the transmission of this defect in future. Current DNA sequencing methods offer a powerful tool for understanding the genetic background of rare diseases in domestic animals having a reference genome sequence available.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12917-015-0366-0) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4351973  PMID: 25890340
Cattle; Rare genetic disease; Skin fragility; Junctional epidermolysis bullosa; Whole genome sequencing; Integrin beta 4, ITGB4
9.  A Systematic Health Assessment of Indian Ocean Bottlenose (Tursiops aduncus) and Indo-Pacific Humpback (Sousa plumbea) Dolphins Incidentally Caught in Shark Nets off the KwaZulu-Natal Coast, South Africa 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(9):e107038.
Coastal dolphins are regarded as indicators of changes in coastal marine ecosystem health that could impact humans utilizing the marine environment for food or recreation. Necropsy and histology examinations were performed on 35 Indian Ocean bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) and five Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins (Sousa plumbea) incidentally caught in shark nets off the KwaZulu-Natal coast, South Africa, between 2010 and 2012. Parasitic lesions included pneumonia (85%), abdominal and thoracic serositis (75%), gastroenteritis (70%), hepatitis (62%), and endometritis (42%). Parasitic species identified were Halocercus sp. (lung), Crassicauda sp. (skeletal muscle) and Xenobalanus globicipitis (skin). Additional findings included bronchiolar epithelial mineralisation (83%), splenic filamentous tags (45%), non-suppurative meningoencephalitis (39%), and myocardial fibrosis (26%). No immunohistochemically positive reaction was present in lesions suggestive of dolphin morbillivirus, Toxoplasma gondii and Brucella spp. The first confirmed cases of lobomycosis and sarcocystosis in South African dolphins were documented. Most lesions were mild, and all animals were considered to be in good nutritional condition, based on blubber thickness and muscle mass. Apparent temporal changes in parasitic disease prevalence may indicate a change in the host/parasite interface. This study provided valuable baseline information on conditions affecting coastal dolphin populations in South Africa and, to our knowledge, constitutes the first reported systematic health assessment in incidentally caught dolphins in the Southern Hemisphere. Further research on temporal disease trends as well as disease pathophysiology and anthropogenic factors affecting these populations is needed.
PMCID: PMC4159300  PMID: 25203143
10.  Immunophenotyping of Inflammatory Cells Associated with Schmallenberg Virus Infection of the Central Nervous System of Ruminants 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(5):e62939.
Schmallenberg virus (SBV) is a recently discovered Bunyavirus associated mainly with abortions, stillbirths and malformations of the skeletal and central nervous system (CNS) in newborn ruminants. In this study, a detailed immunophenotyping of the inflammatory cells of the CNS of affected animals was carried out in order to increase our understanding of SBV pathogenesis. A total of 82 SBV-polymerase chain reaction (PCR) positive neonatal ruminants (46 sheep lambs, 34 calves and 2 goat kids) were investigated for the presence of inflammation in the brain and spinal cord. The study focused on 15 out of 82 animals (18.3%) showing inflammation in the CNS. All 15 neonates displayed lymphohistiocytic meningoencephalomyelitis affecting most frequently the mesencephalon and the parietal and temporal lobes. The majority of infiltrating cells were CD3-positive T cells, followed by CD79α-positive B cells and CD68-positive microglia/macrophages. Malformations like por- and hydranencephaly, frequently found in the temporal lobe, showed associated demyelination and axonal loss. SBV antigen was detected in 37 out of 82 (45.1%) neonatal brains by immunohistochemistry. In particular, SBV antigen was found in 93.3% (14 out of 15 ruminants) and 32.8% (22 out of 67 ruminants) of animals with and without encephalitis, respectively. Highest amounts of virus-protein expression levels were found in the temporal lobe. Our findings suggest that: (i) different brain regions display differential susceptibility to SBV infection; (ii) inflammatory cells in the CNS are found only in a minority of virus infected animals; (iii) malformations occur in association with and without inflammation in the CNS; and (iv) viral antigen is strongly associated with the presence of inflammation in naturally infected animals. Further studies are required to explore the cell tropism and pathogenesis of SBV infection in ruminants.
PMCID: PMC3646890  PMID: 23667545
11.  Schmallenberg Virus in Central Nervous System of Ruminants 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2013;19(1):154-155.
PMCID: PMC3557993  PMID: 23260872
Schmallenberg virus; in situ-hybridization; ruminants; malformation; brain; inflammation; central nervous system; CNS; viruses
12.  Health status of seabirds and coastal birds found at the German North Sea coast 
Systematic pathological investigations to assess the health status of seabirds and coastal birds in Germany were performed. The investigation was conducted to obtain data on possible causes of decline in seabird and coastal bird populations.
48 individuals of 11 different species of seabirds and coastal birds were collected by the stranding network along the entire German North Sea coast from 1997 to 2008, including mainly waders such as Eurasian oystercatchers (Haematopus ostralegus) and red knots (Calidris canutus) as well as seabirds such as northern fulmars (Fulmaris glacialis) and common scoters (Melanitta nigra).
For most birds (n = 31) found dead along the shore no obvious cause of death was evident, while 17 individuals were killed by collisions with lighthouses.
Overall, the nutritional status of the investigated birds was very poor, and the body mass in most cases was significantly lower compared to masses of living birds caught during the same periods of the year. This is partly linked to chronic parasitic or bacterial infections in different organs or to septicaemia. In some cases infections with zoonotic tuberculosis caused by Mycobacterium spp. were found. Avian influenza was not found in any of the collected birds.
The presented data contribute to the evaluation of the health status of birds in the German North Sea. Moreover, they present an important tool for the assessment of potential pathogens with an impact on the health status of seabirds and coastal birds.
PMCID: PMC3441360  PMID: 22812640
Seabirds; Coastal birds; Pathology; North Sea; German waters
13.  Novel Lyssavirus in Natterer’s Bat, Germany 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2011;17(8):1519-1522.
A virus isolated from a Natterer’s bat (Myotis nattererii) in Germany was differentiated from other lyssaviruses on the basis of the reaction pattern of a panel of monoclonal antibodies. Phylogenetic analysis supported the assumption that the isolated virus, Bokeloh bat lyssavirus, may represent a new member of the genus Lyssavirus.
PMCID: PMC3381583  PMID: 21801640
rabies; bats; lyssavirus; Natterer’s bat; Myotis nattereri; sequence analysis; zoonosis; Germany; viruses; dispatch
14.  Clinical, genetic, and pathological features of male pseudohermaphroditism in dog 
Male pseudohermaphroditism is a sex differentiation disorder in which the gonads are testes and the genital ducts are incompletely masculinized. An 8 years old dog with normal male karyotype was referred for examination of external genitalia abnormalities. Adjacent to the vulva subcutaneous undescended testes were observed. The histology of the gonads revealed a Leydig and Sertoli cell neoplasia. The contemporaneous presence of testicular tissue, vulva, male karyotype were compatible with a male pseudohermaphrodite (MPH) condition.
PMCID: PMC3036612  PMID: 21255434
15.  Mycobacterium avium subsp. hominissuis Infection in 2 Pet Dogs, Germany 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2008;14(6):988-990.
PMCID: PMC2600286  PMID: 18507926
Canis familiaris; dog; mycobacteriosis; Mycobacterium avium-intracellulare complex; Mycobacterium avium subsp. Hominissuis; zoonoses; letter
16.  Distemper in a Dolphin 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2007;13(12):1959-1961.
PMCID: PMC2876748  PMID: 18258062
Dolphin; distemper; morbillivirus; encephalitis; letter
17.  Phocine Distemper in German Seals, 2002 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2004;10(4):723-725.
Approximately 21,700 seals died during a morbillivirus epidemic in northwestern Europe in 2002. Phocine distemper virus 1 was isolated from seals in German waters. The sequence of the P gene showed 97% identity with the Dutch virus isolated in 1988. There was 100% identity with the Dutch isolate from 2002 and a single nucleotide mismatch with the Danish isolate.
PMCID: PMC3323098  PMID: 15200869
harbor seal; phocine distemper virus; germany; RT-PCR; immunohistochemistry; serology

Results 1-17 (17)