Common midwife toad ranaviruses replicate first in the oral cavity of smooth newts (Lissotriton vulgaris) and show distinct strain-associated pathogenicity
Ranavirus is the second most common infectious cause of amphibian mortality. These viruses affect caudates, an order in which information regarding Ranavirus pathogenesis is scarce. In the Netherlands, two strains (CMTV-NL I and III) were suspected to possess distinct pathogenicity based on field data. To investigate susceptibility and disease progression in urodeles and determine differences in pathogenicity between strains, 45 adult smooth newts (Lissotriton vulgaris) were challenged via bath exposure with these ranaviruses and their detection in organs and feces followed over time by PCR, immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridization. Ranavirus was first detected at 3 days post infection (p.i.) in the oral cavity and upper respiratory mucosa. At 6 days p.i, virus was found in connective tissues and vasculature of the gastrointestinal tract. Finally, from 9 days p.i onwards there was widespread Ranavirus disease in various organs including skin, kidneys and gonads. Higher pathogenicity of the CMTV-NL I strain was confirmed by higher correlation coefficient of experimental group and mortality of challenged animals. Ranavirus-exposed smooth newts shed virus in feces intermittently and infection was seen in the absence of lesions or clinical signs, indicating that this species can harbor subclinical infections and potentially serve as disease reservoirs.