Visna is a slow virus infection of sheep in which the characteristic pathological change is demyelination in foci of inflammation. The latter is thought to be the result of an immunopathological process directed against cellular and antigenic targets that have been difficult to define because of restricted viral gene expression. A new simultaneous detection assay is used to demonstrate viral RNA in cells identified unambiguously as oligodendrocytes and astrocytes. These cells were found in inflammatory foci. With a new strain of virus that causes a rapid form of visna in Icelandic sheep, viral antigens were demonstrated in cells in the inflammatory lesions. These findings are consistent with the postulated immunopathological mechanism of demyelination: cells that maintain intact myelin sheaths in the central nervous system are destroyed by the inflammatory response to viral antigens expressed in these cells.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We thank M . Shell, R. Cardella, and C. O'Neill for typing the manuscript . These studies were supported by grants from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, American Cancer Society, NIH, and Veterans Administration (BIS and career development) .
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