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Development and use of a triplex real-time PCR assay for detection of three DNA viruses in psittacine birds

Daniel J. Gibson, Nicole M. Nemeth, Hugues Beaufrère, Csaba Varga, Davor Ojkic, Anna Marom, Leonardo Susta
Journal of veterinary diagnostic investigation 2019 v.31 no.5 pp. 719-725
Aves polyomavirus 1, Beak and feather disease virus, DNA, Psittacid alphaherpesvirus 1, analytical specificity, animal pathogens, birds, cross reaction, detection limit, histology, histopathology, inclusion bodies, mixed infection, morbidity, mortality, nucleotide sequences, quantitative polymerase chain reaction, tissues, viruses
Aves polyomavirus 1, psittacine beak and feather disease virus, and psittacid herpesvirus 1 are important pathogens of psittacine birds with the potential to cause substantial morbidity and mortality. Using publically available nucleotide sequences, we developed and validated a triplex real-time PCR (rtPCR) assay to rapidly detect these 3 viruses. The assay had high analytical sensitivity, detecting <6 copies of viral DNA per reaction, and 100% analytical specificity, showing no cross-reactivity with 59 other animal pathogens. Archived formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded tissues from psittacine birds diagnosed at postmortem as infected with each of the viruses as well as virus-negative birds were used to validate the utility of the assay. Birds were selected for the positive cohort if they showed histologic evidence of infection (i.e., characteristic inclusion bodies in tissues); birds in the negative cohort had final diagnoses unrelated to the pathogens of interest. The triplex rtPCR assay confirmed 98% of histopathology-positive cases, and also identified subclinical infections that were not observed by histologic examination, including coinfections. Birds that tested positive only by rtPCR had significantly higher cycle threshold values compared to those with histologic evidence of infection. Positive, negative, and overall percentage agreements as well as the kappa statistic between the results of the assay and histopathology were high, demonstrating the usefulness of the assay as a tool to confirm disease diagnoses, and to improve detection of subclinical infections.