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Adult Syrian golden hamsters inoculated intraperitoneally with Pirital virus, a recently discovered member of the Tacaribe complex of New World arenaviruses, developed a progressively severe, fatal illness with many of the pathologic features observed in fatal human cases of Lassa fever and other arenaviral hemorrhagic fevers. Most of the animals became moribund by Day 5 and were dead by Day 7 after inoculation. The most consistent histopathologic changes included interstitial pneumonitis, splenic lymphoid depletion and necrosis, and multifocal hepatic necrosis without significant inflammatory cell infiltration. The liver changes ranged from single cell death by apoptosis to coagulative necrosis of clusters of hepatocytes. Immunohistochemical studies of the liver demonstrated the presence and accumulation ot Pirital virus antigen within hepatocytes as well as Kupffer cells. An in situ terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated dUTP nick-end labeling (TUNEL) assay showed progressively increasing apoptotic activity in the liver of infected hamsters. A human hepatoblastoma cell line (Hep G2/C3A) inoculated with Pirital virus also developed progressive cell destruction and accumulation of viral antigen, as demonstrated by immunofluorescence. Results of this pilot study suggest that the Pirital virus-hamster model is a very promising new small animal model for studying the pathogenesis of arenavirus infections, particularly, the mechanism of direct virus-induced hepatic injury. It may also be useful for testingantiviral agents for treatment of arenaviral hemorrhagic fevers.