In this study, we investigated the natural route of infection of psittacine bornavirus (PaBV), which is the causative agent of proventricular dilatation disease (PDD) in psittacines. We inoculated two infection groups through wounds with a PaBV-4 isolate. In nine cockatiels (Nymphicus hollandicus) we applied a virus suspension with a titer of 103 50% tissue culture infection dose (TCID50) via palatal lesions (Group P, P1–9). In a second group of three cockatiels, we applied a virus suspension with a titer of 104 TCID50 to footpad lesions (Group F, F1–3). In two cockatiels, the control (or “mock”) group, we applied a virus-free cell suspension (Group M, M1–2) via palatal lesions. The observation period was 6 mo (Groups P and M) or 7 mo (Group F). We monitored PaBV-4 RNA shedding and seroconversion. At the end of the study, we examined the birds for the presence of inflammatory lesions, PaBV-4 RNA, and antigen in tissues, as well as virus reisolation of brain and crop material. We did not observe any clinical signs typical of PDD during this study. We also did not see seroconversion or PaBV RNA shedding in any bird during the entire investigation period, and virus reisolation was not successful. We only found PaBV-4 RNA in sciatic nerves, footpad tissue, skin, and in one sample from the intestine of Group F. In this group, the histopathology revealed mononuclear infiltrations mainly in skin and footpad tissue; immunohistochemistry showed positive reactions in spinal ganglia and in the spinal cord, and slightly in skin, footpad tissues, and sciatic nerves. In Groups P and M we found no viral antigen or specific inflammations. In summary, only the virus application on the footpad lesion led to detectable PaBV RNA, mononuclear infiltrations, and positive immunohistochemical reactions in tissues of the experimental birds. This could suggest that PaBV spreads via nervous tissue, with skin wounds as the primary entry route.

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