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J Neurovirol. 2008 Oct;14(5):368-75. doi: 10.1080/13550280802216502. Epub 2008 Nov 19.

Neuronal apoptosis does not play an important role in human rabies encephalitis.

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Department of Internal Medicine, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.


It is generally accepted that there are not prominent features of neuronal cell death in rabies encephalitis. However, Hemachudha and coworkers recently reported widespread apoptosis in the central nervous system of several human rabies cases (BMC Infect Dis 5: 104, 2005). In this study we have evaluated morphological features and markers of neuronal apoptosis in postmortem brain tissue from 12 cases of human rabies who died in four different countries. Histopathological analysis, TUNEL (terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated dUTP-biotin nick end labeling) staining, and immunostaining for cleaved (activated) caspase-3 were performed on paraffin-embedded tissues from the cerebral cortex, hippocampus, and brainstem, and additional regional areas from one of the cases. We did not find morphological evidence of neuronal apoptosis or TUNEL staining in any of the cases of rabies encephalitis. Similarly, immunostained cleaved caspase-3 was not seen in neurons, but prominent staining was observed in microglial processes. We conclude that neuronal apoptosis does not play an important pathogenetic role in human rabies encephalitis.

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