A Semiquantitative Scoring System for Histopathological and Immunohistochemical Assessment of Lesions and Tissue Tropism in Avian Influenza
The main findings of the post-mortem examination of poultry infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses (HPAIV) include necrotizing inflammation and viral antigen in multiple organs. The lesion profile displays marked variability, depending on viral subtype, strain, and host species. Therefore, in this study, a semiquantitative scoring system was developed to compare histopathological findings across a wide range of study conditions. Briefly, the severity of necrotizing lesions in brain, heart, lung, liver, kidney, pancreas, and/or lymphocytic depletion in the spleen is scored on an ordinal four-step scale (0 = unchanged, 1 = mild, 2 = moderate, 3 = severe), and the distribution of the viral antigen in parenchymal and endothelial cells is evaluated on a four-step scale (0 = none, 1 = focal, 2 = multifocal, 3 = diffuse). These scores are used for a meta-analysis of experimental infections with H7N7 and H5N8 (clade 188.8.131.52b) HPAIV in chickens, turkeys, and ducks. The meta-analysis highlights the rather unique endotheliotropism of these HPAIV in chickens and a more severe necrotizing encephalitis in H7N7-HPAIV-infected turkeys. In conclusion, the proposed scoring system can be used to condensate HPAIV-typical pathohistological findings into semiquantitative data, thus enabling systematic phenotyping of virus strains and their tissue tropism.