Equine arteritis virus (EAV) has a global impact on the equine industry as the causative agent of equine viral arteritis (EVA), a respiratory, systemic, and reproductive disease of equids. A distinctive feature of EAV infection is that it establishes long-term persistent infection in 10 to 70% of infected stallions (carriers). In these stallions, EAV is detectable only in the reproductive tract, and viral persistence occurs despite the presence of high serum neutralizing antibody titers. Carrier stallions constitute the natural reservoir of the virus as they continuously shed EAV in their semen. Although the accessory sex glands have been implicated as the primary sites of EAV persistence, the viral host cell tropism and whether viral replication in carrier stallions occurs in the presence or absence of host inflammatory responses remain unknown. In this study, dual immunohistochemical and immunofluorescence techniques were employed to unequivocally demonstrate that the ampulla is the main EAV tissue reservoir rather than immunologically privileged tissues (i.e., testes). Furthermore, we demonstrate that EAV has specific tropism for stromal cells (fibrocytes and possibly tissue macrophages) and CD8+ T and CD21+ B lymphocytes but not glandular epithelium. Persistent EAV infection is associated with moderate, multifocal lymphoplasmacytic ampullitis comprising clusters of B (CD21+) lymphocytes and significant infiltration of T (CD3+, CD4+, CD8+, and CD25+) lymphocytes, tissue macrophages, and dendritic cells (Iba-1+ and CD83+), with a small number of tissue macrophages expressing CD163 and CD204 scavenger receptors. This study suggests that EAV employs complex immune evasion mechanisms that warrant further investigation.

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Published in Journal of Virology, v. 91, issue 13, e00418-17, p. 1-26.

Copyright © 2017 American Society for Microbiology. All Rights Reserved.

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This work was supported by Agriculture and Food Research Initiative competitive grant number 2013-68004-20360 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) and the Hildegard Rosa Shapiro Endowed Equine Research Fund at the Maxwell H. Gluck Equine Research Center, Department of Veterinary Science, University of Kentucky.