Immunohistological and serological investigation of morbillivirus infection in harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) from the German Baltic and North Sea

G. Müller, U. Siebert, A. Wünschmann, A. Artelt, W. Baumgärtner

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21 Scopus citations


The role of morbillivirus infection as a cause of disease or death in harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) from the German North and Baltic Sea was investigated by serology, histology and immunohistochemistry. Blood and tissue samples of lung, brain and lymph nodes from 74 stranded or by-caught harbour porpoises from German waters were collected between 1991 and 1997. According to dentinal growth layers and body length, animals were grouped into four age classes (neonates, 0-1, 1-4, 4-16 years of age). Formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded sections were stained by hematoxylin and eosin (HE). Immunohistology was done in all lung tissues using the avidin-biotin-peroxidase technique and a polyclonal canine distemper virus (CDV) nucleoprotein-specific antibody, which cross-reacts with porpoise morbillivirus (PMV) antigen. A virus neutralization assay for detection of (Onderstepoort-strain) CDV- and PMV-specific antibodies was performed. Due to the cytotoxicity of some sera, only titres of 1:20 or greater were considered positive. PMV or CDV-specific neutralizing antibody titres were found in 88 and 50% of the animals, respectively. Titres were always highest against PMV indicating infection with a homologous porpoise virus strain. There were no significant differences in neutralizing antibody titres between animals of the different age groups. No histological lesions specific for morbillivirus infection were detected and by immunohistology all cases were negative for morbillivirus antigen. The absence of morbillivirus antigen and the lack of characteristic morbillivirus-specific lesions showed that morbillivirus infection was not a cause of death or illness in the investigated population. However, the high incidence of PMV-specific antibodies in all age groups indicated a continuous spread of infection with a morbillivirus among harbour porpoises from the German Baltic and North Sea. Copyright (C) 2000 Elsevier Science B.V.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17-25
Number of pages9
JournalVeterinary Microbiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 3 2000

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The study was funded by the Federal Ministry of Environment (Grant No. 108 05 017/11) and the BMBF-project, Rostock/Warnemünde (Grant No. 03F0139 A). We wish to thank Prof. Dr. K. Frese for his outstanding support and care in the projects. We are gratefully indebted to Dr. K. Failing for his help with the statistical analysis. Age determination was kindly performed by Dr. Hartwig Kremer and Dr. Laura Chavez Lisambart, Christian-Albrechts University of Kiel and University of Hamburg, Germany.


  • Canine distemper virus
  • Harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena)
  • Immunohistology
  • Morbillivirus
  • Porpoise morbillivirus
  • Serology

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