Slot hybridization and the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) after reverse transcription (RT) were used to detect RNA extracted from tissues of seals after naturally occurring disease and experimental infection with phocid distemper virus (PDV). A phosphoprotein (P) gene-specific cDNA served as a probe for both slot hybridization and the identification of PCR-generated fragments by Southern blotting. As primers for the PCR assay PDV P gene-derived oligonucleotides were used. Hybridization, PCR and partial nucleic acid sequence analysis clearly demonstrated that PDV is a distinct virus (most closely related to canine distemper virus) within the morbillivirus group. PCR, when combined with Southern blot hybridization, was clearly superior to slot hybridization and more sensitive than cell culture isolation and immunofluorescence assays for the detection of virus in tissues. Considerable amounts of viral RNA could be demonstrated in the lungs and spleens. In experimentally infected animals a large quantity of virus-specific RNA was additionally found in colon samples. Using RT-PCR in combination with Southern blotting, PDV could be demonstrated in buffy coat cells using a simple and fast cell lysis procedure.


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