Evidence of apoptosis was detected for the United States porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV) in ATCC CRL11171 cells inoculated with strain ATCC VR2385 and in the tissues of pigs infected with the same strain. Apoptosis was detected by agarose gel electrophoresis, transmission electron microscopy and terminal deoxytransferase dUTP nick end labelling (TUNEL) techniques. By electron microscopy and double-labelling techniques, apoptosis was detected primarily in uninfected bystander cells in the continuous cell line rather than the PRRSV-infected cells. In the lungs, the apoptotic cells were predominantly alveolar and pulmonary intravascular macrophages, and mononuclear cells in the alveolar septa. In the lymph nodes, the apoptotic cells were predominantly tingible body macrophages and mononuclear cells. The induction of apoptosis in a large number of mononuclear cells in the lungs and lymph nodes appears to be a mechanism of PRRSV pathogenesis and might be an explanation for a dramatic reduction in the number of alveolar macrophages and circulating lymphocytes and monocytes in PRRSV-infected pigs.
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