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Hepatitis B virus in silvery gibbons (Hylobates moloch)

Payne, Karen Louise (2004) Hepatitis B virus in silvery gibbons (Hylobates moloch). Masters by Research thesis, Murdoch University.

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This research investigated a number of issues regarding hepatitis B virus (HBV) in the silvery gibbon (Hylobates moloch). Due to the relatively recent discovery of the virus in nonhuman primate populations, specific knowledge of the biological behaviour of the virus is presently lacking, with current information largely extrapolated from the behaviour of HBV in human infections. In order to manage the captive and wild populations of this critically endangered species, information regarding the behaviour of the virus in gibbons and the likely impact of the viral infection is essential.

The research was performed at Perth Zoo, with the study population consisting of the current and historical members of the zoo's silvery gibbon colony. Because this gibbon species is critically endangered, the study was conducted with minimal intervention to the population with samples collected largely on an opportunistic basis from a small study population.

Review of the history of the virus within the Perth Zoo colony provided epidemiological evidence to indicate vertical transmission in three gibbons (Hecla, Uban and Jury). It would appear that vertical transmission is the primary mode of transmission leading to dispersal of the virus through the captive population of silvery gibbons.

Elevated concentrations of the liver enzymes alanine aminotransferase and aspartate aminotransferase were found in three gibbons (Perth 2, Uban and Jury), and may suggest a pathogenic role of the virus in this species. Histological examination of the livers of Uban and Perth 2 failed to demonstrate definitive evidence of cirrhosis, however mild fibrosis was seen in both cases and may represent an early stage of liver pathology associated with chronic hepatitis B infection.

The vaccination protocol developed at Perth Zoo was successful in preventing neonatal transmission of the virus from a high infectivity carrier mother in at least two individuals, and was also successful in producing a protective level of immunity against the virus in all three of the individuals tested.

Sequencing of the complete hepatitis B genome from one gibbon (Hecla) revealed that she was infected with GiHV (Gibbon hepatitis B virus), an indigenous strain of HBV previously identified in a number of gibbon species, but not previously confirmed in the silvery gibbon. Hecla's strain of HBV was shown to be more closely related to other nonhuman primate strains of HBV than to any of the human strains of HBV. 100% nucleotide similarity to two of Hecla's siblings indicates that infection in all three animals was the result of vertical transmission from their mother. Partial sequencing of the virus from a second gibbon (Uban) identified another strain of GiHBV which supports the results of the epidemiological study. Neither gibbon showed a high sequence similarity to the virus sequenced from Ivan, the father of the third carrier gibbon (Jury), although only limited sequence data was available from Ivan. Consequently it is likely that at least three different strains of GiHBV are present within the silvery gibbon population.

The information contained in this thesis will assist in the understanding and management of hepatitis B infection in silvery gibbons, as well as the numerous other species of nonhuman primates now shown to be susceptible to this virus.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters by Research)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences
Supervisor(s): Robertson, Ian, Monaghan, Cree and Fenwick, Stan
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