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The Role of Male Reproductive Organs in the Transmission of African Swine Fever -Implications for Transmission

African swine fever (ASF) has evolved from an exotic animal disease to a threat to global pig production. An important avenue for the wide-spread transmission of animal diseases is their dissemination through boar semen used for artificial insemination. In this context, we investigated the role of male reproductive organs in the transmission of ASF. Mature domestic boars and adolescent wild boars, 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. The viral genome, antigens and the 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 the 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 the excretion dynamics and transmission efficiency.

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