Digital dermatitis (DD), first described in 1974 by Cheli and Mortellaro (R. Cheli and C. Mortellaro, p. 208–213, , 1974), is a major problem in dairy cows and beef cattle causing significant economic losses worldwide. Lesions are typically found at the volar skin proximal to the heel bulbs. Microscopic examination of biopsies or touch preparations of these lesions revealed a variety of different bacterial morphotypes including significant numbers of spirochetes which often represent the predominant morphotype. We used comparative 16S rRNA sequence analysis to determine the diversity and phylogeny of these hitherto unclassified DD spirochetes. Results indicate that those lesions looked at so far contained at least five spirochetal phylotypes, all clustering within the genus Phylotype DDKL-4 was nearly identical (99.4% similarity) to that of a nonpathogenic human treponeme, Two phylotypes DDKL-3 and DDKL-13 were closely related to those from treponemes commonly found in human periodontitis lesions, i.e., and , exhibiting 95 and 98% similarity, respectively. The other two phylotypes, DDKL-12 and DDKL-20, had no close relatives to any cultivable treponemal species but clustered to previously described group IV oral treponemes. Preliminary analysis using in situ hybridization with fluorescently labeled oligonucleotide probes against smears from DD biopsies revealed that from all lesions analyzed so far, -like spirochetes were detected in the highest proportion of all spirochetal morphotypes.


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