The rabbit-adapted Borna disease (BD) virus strain V was passaged by intracerebral infection of 1-day-old Wistar rats. Infectivity titres reached 10 infectious units per gram of brain 4 weeks after infection. No clinical signs were evident. The persistent infection could be induced with adapted or field strains of BD virus. Strains were identified by neutralization tests. The virulence of the rabbit-adapted BD virus for the rat increased with rat passages. The 5th passage induced clinical symptoms in animals infected at 1 week of age or older. Between 20% and 50% of diseased rats died. Virus-specific antigen was detectable immunohistologically in neurons of rats infected at all ages. Animals inoculated at 1 or 2 months of age, but not the neonatal rats, showed signs of inflammation in the brain. Infected rats produced specific antibodies. In the older groups (infected at ages of 1 or 2 months), and especially in surviving animals, occasionally, neutralizing antibodies with high titres were found. Transfer of primed spleen cells resulted in subacute disease. These findings demonstrate that neonatal rats can acquire a persistent, tolerant infection and that expression of disease is mediated by immunological factors.


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