Colonization patterns of Enterococcus cecorum in two different broiler production cycles detected with a newly developed quantitative real-time PCR
Enterococcal spondylitis (ES) is a disease of commercial broiler chickens, with a worldwide distribution. Symmetrical hind limb paralysis typical of ES results from infection of the free thoracic vertebra (FTV) by pathogenic strains of Enterococcus cecorum . To determine the pathogenesis of ES, birds with natural and experimental ES were studied over time. In natural disease, case birds (n = 150) from an affected farm and control birds (n = 100) from an unaffected farm were evaluated at weeks 1-6. In control birds, intestinal colonization by E. cecorum began at week 3. In case birds, E. cecorum was detected in intestine and spleen at week 1, followed by infection of the FTV beginning at week 3. E. cecorum isolates recovered from intestine, spleen, and FTV of case birds had matching genotypes, confirming that intestinal colonization with pathogenic strains precedes bacteremia and infection of the FTV. Clinical intestinal disease was not required for E. cecorum bacteremia. In 1- to 3-week-old case birds, pathogenic E. cecorum was observed within osteochondrosis dissecans (OCD) lesions in the FTV. To determine whether OCD of the FTV was a risk factor for ES, 214 birds were orally infected with E. cecorum, and the FTV was evaluated histologically at weeks 1-7. Birds without cartilage clefts of OCD in the FTV did not develop ES; while birds with OCD scores ≥3 were susceptible to lesion development. These findings suggest that intestinal colonization, bacteremia, and OCD of the FTV in early life are crucial to the pathogenesis of ES.