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Leipig, Miriam; Matiasek, Kaspar; Rinder, Heinz; Janik, Dirk; Emrich, Daniela; Baiker, Kerstin; Hermanns, Walter (January 2013): Value of histopathology, immunohistochemistry, and real-time polymerase chain reaction in the confirmatory diagnosis of Encephalitozoon cuniculi infection in rabbits. In: Journal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation, Vol. 25, No. 1: pp. 16-26


Morphological lesions in kidneys and brain are all too often considered diagnostic for confirmation of encephalitozoonosis in rabbits. The current study evaluated the diagnostic value of histology versus other etiological tests, including immunohistochemistry and real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for Encephalitozoon cuniculi infection diagnosis. Samples of brain, heart, lungs, intestine, liver, and kidneys from 81 rabbits were examined for morphological lesions attributed to E. cuniculi infection as well as for the presence of spores and E. cuniculi antigen. Of these, 55 rabbits were tested for E. cuniculi DNA. Histological changes consistent with E. cuniculi infection were seen in 33 rabbits (41%, 33/81) representing 87% (33/38) of all rabbits with confirmed E. cuniculi infection. Brains of these rabbits displayed 6 different types of focal lesions corresponding to the stage of infection and specific tissue response. In 5 rabbits that were tested positive, histology was either inconclusive or inconspicuous. Etiological diagnosis was based on histological spore detection in 16% (6/38) of infected rabbits. Immunohistochemistry was more sensitive (42%, 16/38) than histological spore detection, and real-time PCR proved to be the most sensitive of all investigated methods (30/35, 86% of the examined rabbits with E. cuniculi infection). Encephalitozoon cuniculi infection rarely occurs without characteristic kidney and brain lesions. However, the spectrum of brain changes is wider than previously reported. Based on these findings, confirmation of pathogenic E. cuniculi infection should include standard histology of the predilection sites and a specific etiological assay, preferably real-time PCR.