Characterization of a novel rhabdovirus isolated from a stranded harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena)

Alexandra Emelianchik, Thaís C.S. Rodrigues, Kuttichantran Subramaniam, Ole Nielsen, Kathy A. Burek-Huntington, David Rotstein, Vsevolod L. Popov, David Stone, Thomas B. Waltzek

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


An adult male harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) stranded off the coast of Alaska displaying poor body condition, scattered mild ulcerative dermatitis, and necrotizing balanoposthitis. Necropsy findings included severe verminous panniculitis, pneumonia, hepatitis, and enteritis. Histopathological examination of skin lesions revealed a pustular epidermitis and dermatitis, with ballooning degeneration of keratinocytes and occasional amphophilic intracytoplasmic inclusion bodies. A swab sample collected from the ulcerative penile lesions was processed for virus isolation resulting in cytopathic effects observed in primary beluga whale kidney (BWK) cells. Transmission electron microscopy revealed bullet-shaped virions budding from the cell surface of infected BWK cells consistent with a rhabdovirus. A cDNA library was prepared using RNA extracted from infected cell culture supernatant and sequenced on an Illumina MiSeq sequencer. The near-complete genome of a novel rhabdovirus was recovered. Genetic and phylogenetic analyses based on the complete L gene supported the harbour porpoise rhabdovirus (HPRV) as a new species. HPRV clustered phylogenetically with dolphin rhabdovirus (DRV) and this cetacean rhabdovirus clade was found to be the sister group to members of the genus Perhabdovirus that infect fish. A specific nested RT-PCR assay detected HPRV RNA in the epaxial musculature of the harbour porpoise. Our results are consistent with a previous hypothesis that cetacean rhabdoviruses may have arisen following a host jump from fish and suggest that DRV and HPRV represent separate species belonging in a new genus within the family Rhabdoviridae. Further research is needed to determine the health impact of HPRV in harbour porpoise populations, its prevalence, and route of transmission.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number197742
JournalVirus Research
StatePublished - Nov 2019


  • Cetacean
  • Harbour porpoise
  • Marine mammal
  • Rhabdoviridae

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Virology
  • Infectious Diseases
  • Cancer Research


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