Runting stunting syndrome (RSS) is a disease condition that affects broilers and causes impaired growth and poor feed conversion because of enteritis characterized by pale and distended small intestines with watery contents. The etiology of the disease is multifactorial, and a large variety of viral agents have been implicated. Here we describe the detection and isolation of an infectious bronchitis virus (IBV) -like coronavirus from the intestines of a flock of 60,000 14-day-old brown/red broiler chicks. The birds showed typical clinical signs of RSS including stunting and uneven growth. At necropsy, the small intestines were pale and distended with watery contents. Histopathology of the intestines revealed increased cellularity of the lamina propria, blunting of villi, and cystic changes in the crypts. Negative stain electron microscopy of the intestinal contents revealed coronavirus particles. Transmission electron microscopy of the intestine confirmed coronavirus in the cytoplasm of enterocytes. Using immunohistochemistry (IHC), IBV antigen was detected in the intestinal epithelial cells as well as in the proventriculus and pancreas. There were no lesions in the respiratory system, and no IBV antigen was detected in trachea, lung, air sac, conjunctiva, and cecal tonsils. A coronavirus was isolated from the intestine of chicken embryos but not from the allantoic sac inoculated with the intestinal contents of the broiler chicks. Sequencing of the S1 gene showed nucleic acid sequence identities of 93.8% to the corresponding region of IBV California 99 and of 85.7% to IBV Arkansas. Nucleic acid sequence identities to other IBV genotypes were lower. The histopathologic lesions in the intestines were reproduced after experimental infection of specific-pathogen-free chickens inoculated in the conjunctiva and nares. Five days after infection, six of nine investigated birds showed enteritis associated with IBV antigen as detected by IHC. In contrast to the field infection, birds in the experimental group showed clear respiratory signs and lesions in the upper respiratory tract. The results suggest a broader tissue tropism of this isolate, which might be related to the mutations in the S1 gene.
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Vol. 60 • No. 2