The Pathology and Pathogenesis of Bluetongue

Nigel J Maclachlan, C. P. Drew, K. E. Darpel, G. Worwa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

325 Scopus citations


Bluetongue (BT) is an insect-transmitted viral disease of wild and domestic ruminants and, occasionally, other species. Amongst domestic livestock, BT is most common in certain breeds of sheep whereas asymptomatic BT virus (BTV) infection of cattle is typical in enzootic regions. BT in cattle can be a feature of specific outbreaks, notably the current epizootic in Europe caused by BTV serotype 8. BTV replicates within mononuclear phagocytic and endothelial cells, lymphocytes and possibly other cell types in lymphoid tissues, the lungs, skin and other tissues. Infected ruminants may exhibit a prolonged but not persistent viraemia and BTV is associated with erythrocytes during the late stages of this prolonged viraemia. The pathogenesis of BT involves injury to small blood vessels in target tissues, but the relative contributions of direct virus-induced cytolysis and virus-induced vasoactive mediators in causing endothelial injury and dysfunction are presently unclear. The lesions of BT are characteristic and include: haemorrhage and ulcers in the oral cavity and upper gastrointestinal tract; necrosis of skeletal and cardiac muscle; coronitis; subintimal haemorrhage in the pulmonary artery; oedema of the lungs, ventral subcutis, and fascia of the muscles of the neck and abdominal wall; and pericardial, pleural and abdominal effusions. Transplacental transmission of BTV in ruminants, with subsequent fetal infection, is a property of specific virus strains, especially those propagated in embryonated eggs or cell culture. The outcome of BTV infection of fetal ruminants is age-dependent, with distinctive cavitating lesions of the central nervous system in animals that survive infection in early gestation. Immune competence to BTV arises by mid-gestation, and animals infected in late gestation can be born viraemic and without significant brain malformations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Comparative Pathology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2009


  • bluetongue virus
  • cattle
  • pathogenesis
  • pathology
  • sheep

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • veterinary(all)


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