The two major characteristics of pathogenesis in African swine fever virus (ASFV) infections of domestic pigs are massive B-cell apoptosis and haemorrhage. The effects of ASFV on porcine B cells have therefore been systematically examined in vivo, by using virus-infected pigs and SCID-Beige mice reconstituted with porcine bone marrow, and in vitro, by using porcine B-cell lines and B cells from normal and ASFV-infected pigs. Secretion of porcine Ig was stimulated by ASFV both in vivo and in bone marrow cultures in vitro, with the virulent Malawi isolate of ASFV being the most effective. Stimulation of Ig secretion in vitro depended on the presence of ASFV-infected macrophages and did not occur with supernatants from ASFV-infected macrophages. Although the virus alone did not stimulate proliferation of purified B cells in vitro, it was co-stimulatory with CD154 (CD40 ligand). The B cells recovered from ASFV-infected porcine lymphoid tissue were of activated surface marker phenotypes and, interestingly, expressed diminished levels of the B-cell co-stimulatory surface molecule CD21. In addition, they were highly sensitive to IL-4 and CD154. These results may be integrated into a model of pathogenesis in which those B cells activated indirectly as a result of virulent ASFV infection of macrophages are not rescued from apoptosis through interaction with CD154, due to the drastic depletion of T cells that occurs early in infection. The consequently diminished specific anti-ASFV antibody response would favour survival of the virus, with the non-specific hypergammaglobulinaemia being perhaps another example of pathogen-mediated immune deviation.


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