The Male Reproductive Organs in African Swine Fever–Implications for Transmission : [Preprint]

African swine fever (ASF) has evolved from an exotic animal disease to a threat to global pig production. An important avenue for wide-spread transmission of animal diseases is the dissemination of viruses through boar semen used for artificial insemination (AI). In this context, we investigated the role of male reproductive organs in ASF. Mature domestic boars and adolescent wild boar inoculated with different ASF virus strains were investigated by means of virological and pathological methods. Additionally, electron microscopy was employed to investigate in vitro inoculated sperm. Viral genome, antigen and infectious virus could be found in all gonadal tissues and accessory sex glands. The viral antigen and viral mRNAs were mainly found in mononuclear cells of the respective tissues. However, some other cell types, including Leydig, endothelial and stromal cells were also found positive. Using RNAScope, p72 mRNA could be found in scattered halo cells of the epididymal duct epithelium which could point to disruption of the barrier. No direct infection of spermatozoa was observed by immunohistochemistry or electron microscopy. Taken together, our results strengthen the assumption that ASFV can be transmitted via boar semen. Future studies are needed to explore excretion dynamics and transmission efficiency.

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