New World camelids are sentinels for the presence of Borna disease virus

Alexandra J. Malbon*, Ralf Dürrwald, Jolanta Kolodziejek, Norbert Nowotny, Ralph Kobera, Dietrich Pöhle, Aemero Muluneh, Eva Dervas, Christopher Cebra, Frank Steffen, Giulia Paternoster, Christian Gerspach, Monika Hilbe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Borna disease (BD), a frequently fatal neurologic disorder caused by Borna disease virus 1 (BoDV-1), has been observed for decades in horses, sheep, and other mammals in certain regions of Europe. The bicoloured white-toothed shrew (Crocidura leucodon) was identified as a persistently infected species involved in virus transmission. Recently, BoDV-1 attracted attention as a cause of fatal encephalitis in humans. Here, we report investigations on BoDV-1-infected llamas from a farm in a BD endemic area of Switzerland, and alpacas from holdings in a region of Germany where BD was last seen in the 1960s but not thereafter. All New World camelids showed apathy and abnormal behaviour, necessitating euthanasia. Histologically, severe non-suppurative meningoencephalitis with neuronal Joest-Degen inclusion bodies was observed. BoDV-1 was confirmed by immunohistology, RT-qPCR, and sequencing in selected animals. Analysis of the llama herd over 20 years showed that losses due to clinically suspected BD increased within the last decade. BoDV-1 whole-genome sequences from one Swiss llama and one German alpaca and—for comparison—from one Swiss horse and one German shrew were established. They represent the first published whole-genome sequences of BoDV-1 clusters 1B and 3, respectively. Our analysis suggests that New World camelids may have a role as a sentinel species for BoDV-1 infection, even when symptomatic cases are lacking in other animal species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)451-464
Number of pages14
JournalTransboundary and Emerging Diseases
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022


  • Borna disease virus
  • Bornavirus
  • New World camelids
  • alpaca
  • encephalitis
  • llama
  • Camelids, New World
  • Animals
  • Encephalitis/veterinary
  • Borna Disease/epidemiology
  • Borna disease virus/genetics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Veterinary


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