Virology, Nebraska Center for


Date of this Version

December 1997


Published in JOURNAL OF VIROLOGY, Dec. 1997, p. 9170–9179 Vol. 71, No. 12. Copyright © 1997, American Society for Microbiology. Used by permission.


Like other arteriviruses, porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV) is shed in semen, a feature that is critical for the venereal transmission of this group of viruses. In spite of its epidemiological importance, little is known of the association of PRRSV or other arteriviruses with gonadal tissues. We experimentally infected a group of boars with PRRSV 12068-96, a virulent field strain. By combined use of in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry, we detected infection by PRRSV in the testes of these boars. The PRRSV testicular replication in testis centers on two types of cells: (i) epithelial germ cells of the seminiferous tubules, primarily spermatids and spermatocytes, and (ii) macrophages, which are located in the interstitium of the testis. Histopathologically, hypospermatogenesis, formation of multinucleated giant cells (MGCs), and abundant germ cell depletion and death were observed. We obtained evidence that such germ cell death occurs by apoptosis, as determined by a characteristic histologic pattern and evidence of massive DNA fragmentation detected in situ (TUNEL [terminal deoxynucleotidyltransferase-mediated digoxigenin-UTP nick end labeling] assay). Simultaneously with these testicular alterations, we observed that there is a significant increase in the number of immature sperm cells (mainly MGCs, spermatids, and spermatocytes) in the ejaculates of the PRRSV-inoculated boars and that these cells are infected with PRRSV. Our results indicate that PRRSV may infect target cells other than macrophages, that these infected cells can be primarily responsible for the excretion of infectious PRRSV in semen, and that PRRSV induces apoptosis in these germ cells in vivo.

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