Neuronal Vacuolation and Spinocerebellar Degeneration in Young Rottweiler Dogs

G. D. Kortz, W. A. Meier, R. J. Higgins, R. A. French, B. C. Mckiernan, R. Fatzer, J. F. Zachary

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


With the recent epizootic of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in Europe, the differential diagnosis of neuronal vacuolation and spongiform change in other species has become critically important. Four Rottweiler puppies of both sexes, presented at 3-8 months of age, had clinical signs of generalized weakness and ataxia that started at 6 weeks of age. In all pups, neurologic examination detected an ataxia and tetraparesis, most severe in the pelvic limbs, and slowed proprioceptive placing reactions. Subsequently, there was rapid progressive neurologic deterioration, with severe placing deficits, knuckling, severe ataxia, and quadraparesis by 8 months of age. At necropsy, no gross lesions were observed. Microscopic lesions were restricted to the nervous system. The major lesion in all dogs was an intracytoplasmic neuronal vacuolation that was most prominent in the cerebellar roof nuclei and in nuclei of the extrapyramidal system. Similar vacuolation was found in neurons in both dorsal nerve root ganglia, myenteric plexus, and other ganglia of the autonomic nervous system. The single or multiple empty vacuoles were between 1 and 45 μm in diameter. A mild spongiform change was seen in the adjacent neuropil. Purkinje cell vacuolation and degeneration with segmental cell loss was seen in the oldest dog. In ventromedial and dorsolateral areas of the spinal cord white matter, there was mild bilaterally symmetrical axonal degeneration. Immunoblotting and immunocytochemical staining of the brain for protease-resistant scrapie prion protein was negative. All forms of vacuoles were negative for immunohistochemical staining with a variety of lectins. Ultrastructurally, the vacuoles were bound by a single membrane and contained granular material and sometimes membranous profiles. There was mild distension of the cytocavitary network but no unequivocal connection with the vacuoles was found. Axosomatic and axodendritic synapses in affected neurons were intact both ultrastructurally and with synaptophysin immunostaining. The clinicopathologic findings were different from those seen in the other neurologic diseases of Rottweilers. The age of the dogs, distribution and type of the lesions, ultrastructural findings, and negative immunoblotting most likely rule out the possibility of a scrapie agent-associated spongiform encephalopathy. However, the etiology of this new disease was not determined.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)296-302
Number of pages7
JournalVeterinary pathology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1997


  • Dogs
  • Immunocytochemistry
  • Neuronal vacuolation
  • Purkinje cell
  • Rottweiler
  • Spinocerebellar degeneration
  • Spongiform
  • Ultrastructure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Veterinary


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