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New test for the detection of infectious diseases in primates

Infection biologists use a chip-based testing system to diagnose virus infections in nonhuman primates
Infection biologists at the DPZ have developed a new testing system to diagnose virus infections in nonhuman primates. Photo: Anton Säckl
Monkeys and humans are genetically closely related so that some viruses can transfer easily from one species to another. This poses a significant health risk. For example, a transmission of the measles virus from humans to monkeys leads to serious disease in the animals. Conversely, the Herpes B virus that infects macaques can cause a life-threatening brain inflammation in humans. For facilities with monkey populations, it is thus important to regularly check the population for relevant viral infections and if necessary treat any diseased animals. Figure: Markus Hoffmann
Monkeys and humans are genetically closely related so that some viruses can transfer easily from one species to another. This poses a significant health risk. For example, a transmission of the measles virus from humans to monkeys leads to serious disease in the animals. Conversely, the Herpes B virus that infects macaques can cause a life-threatening brain inflammation in humans. For facilities with monkey populations, it is thus important to regularly check the population for relevant viral infections and if necessary treat any diseased animals. Figure: Markus Hoffmann

Animal health is essential for scientific research with nonhuman primates. Viral infections can threaten the health of these animals. In addition, some viruses that infect nonhuman primates also pose a threat to humans who come into contact with these animals. Similarly, some viruses that circulate in humans may also cause disease in nonhuman primates. In order to prevent viruses from spreading in the monkey colonies at DPZ, it is essential to routinely check the animals for antibodies against viruses. For this, the Infection Biology Unit has brought into service a chip-based testing system that allows the convenient examination of several hundred samples.

Virus infections can cause serious diseases in monkeys. For instance, certain retroviruses cause immunodeficiency in these animals. Some viruses that infect monkeys may also be transmitted to humans, a process referred to as zoonosis. The herpes B virus (Macacine alphaherpesvirus 1) that infects macaques is of particular concern in this context. Infected animals do not show symptoms at all or at most develop oral blisters. However, if herpes B virus is transmitted to humans it can trigger a severe inflammation of the brain. Similarly, some viruses such as measles virus only circulate in the human population but can also infect nonhuman primates and cause severe disease in these animals. In order to protect the health of both humans and nonhuman primates a reliable detection method for viral infections is essential.

Artur Kaul is head of the Virus Diagnostics Laboratory of the Infection Biology Unit at the DPZ. To detect virus infections of nonhuman primates, he makes use of the fact that infected animals produce antibodies against the invading viruses. Until recently, a separate detection method had to be used for each virus, which made it difficult to examine the several hundred animals that are housed at the DPZ. By introducing a chip-based commercial detection system for multiple virus-specific nonhuman primate antibodies, Artur Kaul has provided a solution to this problem. In this method, proteins from nine different viruses are spotted onto chips. The chips are then exposed to sera from monkeys and bound antibodies are labelled with the help of secondary antibodies. These secondary antibodies are linked to gold particles whose presence can be detected by a special device. With the help of this system, Artur Kaul is able to examine several hundred samples in a short time frame and to conveniently and reliably detect viral infections of nonhuman primates.

The analyses conducted by Artur Kaul showed that most of the monkeys at the DPZ are infected with beta- and gamma herpesviruses as well as simian foamy virus, none of which pose a threat to animal or human health. In contrast, antibodies associated with potentially dangerous nonhuman primate-associated viruses such as herpes B and simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), the latter of which is related to HIV, have not been detected.

Original publication

Kaul A, Schönmann U, and Pöhlmann S (2019): Seroprevalence of viral infections in captive rhesus and cynomolgus macaques. Primate Biol., 6, 1-6, https://doi.org/10.5194/pb-6-1-2019