Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, say they have identified the virus linked to proventricular dilatation disease, or PDD, a fatal nervous system disorder in domesticated and wild birds in the psittacine family.
The researchers also developed a diagnostic test for the virus, avian bornavirus (ABV) . Other members of the bornavirus family encephalitis in horses and livestock.
“This discovery has potentially solved a mystery that has been plaguing the avian veterinary community since the 1970s,” said Joseph DeRisi, Ph.D., who led the team with Don Ganem, MD, both professors and Howard Hughes Medical Investigators at UCSF.
“These results clearly reveal the existence of an avian reservoir of remarkably diverse bornaviruses that are dramatically different from anything seen in other animals.”
Drs. DeRisi and Ganem said that the discovery could have profound consequences on both domesticated parrots and in the conservation of endangered species. For instance, the Spix’s Macaw is currently one of the most endangered birds in the world and is threatened by PDD, numbering at about 100 worldwide, according to the researchers.
It had been theorized that a viral pathogen was the source of the disease, but until now, no one had been able to identify it.
“This provides a very compelling lead in the longstanding search for a viral cause of PDD,” Ganem said. “With the development of molecular clones and diagnostic tests for ABV, we can now begin to explore both the epidemiology of the virus and how it is linked to the disease state.”
The study, to be published in Virology Journal, is co-authored by Amy Kistler, Ph.D., from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Medicine at UCSF; Susan Clubb, DVM, from the Rainforest Clinic for Birds and Exotics in Loxahatchee, Fla.; and Ady Gancz, from The Exotic Clinic, Herzlyia, Israel; among others.