Two young black and white ruffed lemurs (Varecia variegata variegata) died at the San Diego Zoo (San Diego, California, USA) with extensive liver lesions suggestive of acute viral infection. Immunoassays performed to detect hepatitis B virus (HBV) markers were negative. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) primers overlapping the HBV core gene produced an amplicon of approximately 411 base pairs (bp) from serum DNA of a HBV-positive western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) but not from serum DNA of either lemur. Cesium chloride gradient fractions of liver homogenates from both lemurs contained a peak protein fraction with a density of 1.18 g/cm3. Electron microscopic analysis of fraction contents, concentrated by ultracentrifugation, revealed numerous pleomorphic, spherical particles varying in diameter from 16–25 nm. In one of the lemurs, this peak fraction also contained a double-shelled virus-like particle 47–50 nm in diameter. The size, morphology, and density of these particles suggest they are members of the Hepadnaviridae, a group of hepatotropic DNA-genome viruses for which HBV is the prototype.
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Vol. 38 • No. 2