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J Neurovirol. 1999 Apr;5(2):181-9.

Neonatal Borna disease virus infection in the rat causes a loss of Purkinje cells in the cerebellum.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, Anatomy and Cell Biology, Jefferson Medical College, Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19107, USA.


Viral insults that occur during early postnatal periods, can affect neuronal systems which exhibit significant postnatal development, such as the cerebral cortex and cerebellum. Borna disease virus (BDV) is a single-strand RNA virus which replicates in the nervous system of many species after experimental inoculation and causes acute neurological disease. Neonatal rats infected with BDV do not mount an aggressive response to the virus like their adult counterparts, but instead develop a persistent BDV infection with less overt clinical sequelae. Recently, the cerebellum, a neural structure associated with regulation of motor behavior, and perhaps with higher cognitive functions, has been demonstrated to be a target of neonatal BDV infections in rats (Bautista et al, 1995). In the present study neonatal rats were infected with BDV and their cerebella were analyzed histologically and immunohistochemically at 7 months of age. The cerebella of infected animals were reduced in size but normal foliation and laminar organization was present. However, as visualized with immunohistochemistry for the Purkinje cell-specific antigen calbindin, there were numerous gaps within the Purkinje cell layer and in the molecular layer which contains the Purkinje cell dendritic trees. We estimated the number of Purkinje cells and found there was an approximately 75% loss of PC in adult rats neonatally infected with BDV. These results suggest that neonatal BDV infection may either (1) target the PC and cause the death of these cells directly or (2) acts indirectly by triggering an immune response which is then responsible for the loss of these cells.

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