Wildlife Disease and Zoonotics


Date of this Version



Published in Vet Pathol 39:334–340 (2002).


The recent discovery of tuberculosis in free-living white-tailed deer in northeastern Michigan underscores the need for increased understanding of the pathogenesis of tuberculosis in wildlife species. To investigate lesion development in white-tailed deer, 32 deer were experimentally infected by intratonsilar instillation of 300 colony-forming units of Mycobacterium bovis. Three deer each were euthanatized and examined at days 15, 28, 42, and 56 after inoculation, and five deer each were euthanatized and examined at days 89, 180, 262, and 328 after inoculation. Microscopic lesions first were seen in the medial retropharyngeal lymph node and lung 28 and 42 days after inoculation, respectively. Lung lesions were present in 12 (38%) of 32 deer, involving 23 lung lobes. Left caudal and right middle and caudal lobes were involved in 17 (74%) of the 23 affected lung lobes. Lesions in the medial retropharyngeal lymph node first appeared as granulomas composed of aggregates of macrophages and Langhans-type giant cells. Some early granulomas contained centrally located neutrophils. As granulomas developed, neutrophils were replaced with a central zone of caseous necrosis that first showed signs of mineralization 42 days after inoculation. Granulomas increased in size as the zone of caseous necrosis expanded. Peripheral fibrosis, first seen at 56 days after inoculation, progressed to only a thin fibrous capsule by 328 days after inoculation. By the termination of the study, the central necrotic core of the granuloma contained abundant liquefied necrotic material and grossly resembled an abscess. Although tuberculous lesions in white-tailed deer follow a developmental pattern similar to that in cattle, fibrosis is less pronounced and the advanced lesions may liquefy, a change seldom reported in cattle. An understanding of lesion development will aid in the identification of the spectrum of disease that may be seen in this important wildlife reservoir of tuberculosis.