Two ferrets (Mustela putorius furo) were experimentally infected with phocine distemper virus (PDV), from the 1988 seal epizootic in Europe, in order to determine whether the stable transfected Vero cell line (Vero.DogSLAMtag) expressing canine “signaling lymphocyte activation molecules” (SLAM; CD150) receptors, was more suitable for isolating and characterizing PDV when compared with Vero (American Type Culture Collection # C1008) and primary seal kidney (PSK) cells. Both ferrets displayed characteristic clinical signs of distemper, including fever and rash, 10 days postinoculation (dpi) and, due to increased morbidity, they were euthanized 12 dpi. Histologic lesions, suggestive of infection with morbilliviruses, were observed in tissues from both ferrets, and the tissues stained positive using immunohistochemistry. Isolation of PDV from isolated peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBLs), taken at 5 and 10 dpi, was achieved by cocultivation with Vero and PSK cells, following several passages. Cytopathic effects (CPE) were observed in Vero cell cultures at 29 dpi and in PSK cell cultures at 22 dpi. Phocine distemper virus was isolated from frozen infected ferret lung tissue within 48 hr, when isolation was attempted using the Vero.DogSLAMtag cell line. In addition, a reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test was developed to detect a 114 base pair (bp) portion of the nucleocapsid gene found only in PDV. This RT-PCR methodology was used to confirm the identity of the virus subsequently isolated from the ferrets. Viral isolates from the infected ferrets, as well as cultures of virus originally isolated from a dolphin and a porpoise and maintained in Vero cells, also replicated faster and produced higher titers of virus when propagated in Vero.DogSLAMtag cells. These results indicate that Vero.DogSLAMtag cells offer a substantial improvement (including faster viral replication resulting in primary viral isolation in a shorter period of time, and higher yield of virus finally obtained) over traditional cell culture methodologies for isolation and characterization of marine mammal morbilliviruses.
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Vol. 44 • No. 3