Avian Bornavirus and Avian Bornaviral Ganglioneuritis (Proventricular Dilatation Disease-PDD): Clinical Signs of ABV Infections and Systems Affected

Clinical Signs of ABV Infections and Systems Affected

Cockatoo KrissyBy

Jeannine Miesle, MA

Academic researcher in the field of avian medicine. Member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV) and International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management (IVAPM) 

The author is indebted to Dr. Robert Dahlhausen (Avian and Exotic Medical Center, Milford, OH) for his advice and support on this paper.

Full Articles:

Latest insights into Avian Bornavirus and Avian Ganglioneuritis (PDD) for Pet Bird Owners (simplified version)

Latest insights into Avian and Avian Ganglioneuritis (PDD) for Aviculturists and Veterinary Professionals (more in-depth / advanced version)

Clinical Signs of Avian Bornaviral and Avian Gangioneuritis (PDD) Infections

ABV is a highly neurotropic virus; it seeks out and attacks the neurons in the brain which then affect the rest of the body. Birds may experience the CNS or GI signs, or both.

The Gastrointestinal Signs of ABV Disease

The most frequently seen clinical GI signs include depression, anorexia and weight loss (due to poor motility), loss of body condition, regurgitation, passage of undigested food in the feces, poor absorption, inappetence and polyphagia (increased appetite). Crop biopsy and radiographs reveal dilation of the proventriculus, ventriculus and other organs.2 Histopathology slides show an infection of the nerves ganglions of the GI system.14

When this invasion of the nerve clusters by lymphocytes and plasmacytes reaches the GI system’s nerves, “symptomatic, persistent infections often result in intestinal colic and ganglioneuritis in the upper intestinal tract.”2, 22 The vagus nerve (CN X) in the brain “supplies the first part of the intestinal tract—from the crop, proventriculus and ventriculus to the duodenum and the heart. When the vagus nerve malfunctions, there is a disruption of the normal GI motility and a thinning of the wall of the GI tract.” 14 This can result in the rupture of the proventriculus, intense pain, and immediate death. Finding the infected nerve ganglions confirms that the individual is positive for Avian Ganglioneuritis (PDD).14 Other signs include varying degrees of abdominal enlargement, muscle atrophy, weakness, and polyuria. In addition, clinicians frequently observe secondary bacterial and fungal infections of the GI tract due to slow motility.20

Dilated crop

Figure 4: Arrow indicates dilated crop four hours after feeding, with little or no motility. (Courtesy S. Orosz)


The Neurological Signs of Avian Gangioneuritis (PDD)

In some individuals, ABV assaults the Central Nervous System (CNS), leading to inflammation of the brain and spinal cord.22 Because ABV is a neurotropic virus, it causes inflammation of the nerve ganglia.4 The immune response causes nerve dystrophy which leads to clinical disease. (Dahlhausen, personal communication)

CNS signs include “lack of coordination, ataxia, paresis (progressive, impaired movement), paralysis, head tremors, seizures, and motor and proprioceptive deficits.”2,5 Feather plucking and self-mutilation may also ensue due to a peripheral neuritis. The bird may experience difficulty balancing, moaning or crying due to digestive discomfort, hyperesthesia (oversensitivity to sensory stimulation), aggressive behavior, and intermittent head-shaking 4,2 Some practitioners believe that nervous system signs are more difficult to control and more rapidly fatal than GI signs. In tests, antibody titers were highest in birds with neurological signs.7

PDD parrot with signs of self-mutilation

Figure 6: Signs of self-mutilation in an African Grey (Courtesy R. Dahlhausen)


Cardiac Impairment (Autonomic Nervous System)

In studies, “Viral antigen ABV has been identified in the cells which generate the electrical impulses that control the heart rate.” 2 Clinicians have discovered “lesions in tissues outside of the nerves, such as smooth or heart muscle fibers.” 22 Viral antigens have also been found in the “conduction pathways of the heart. These antigens cause acute death in otherwise normal-appearing individuals. 22

Ocular Damage

The Avian Bornavirus may also be responsible for disorders of the eyes, leading to ocular lesions and blindness. Affected birds experience lesions within the fundus (retina) of the eye and decreased visual acuity.10 The virus is also responsible for cortical blindness--the eye is not damaged but the nerve connection between the eye and brain is not functioning properly.  In most cases of cortical blindness, the eyes respond to correct treatment.2

dilated  proventriculus and ventriculus

Figures 6: Displacement of organs caused by dilated proventriculus and ventriculus. (Courtesy R. Dahlhausen)

PDD cockatoo necropsy photo

Figure 7: A necropsy photo shows the dramatically reduced pectoral mass in a cockatoo. Wasting occurs when the proventriculus dilates as the disease progresses. The proventricular wall thins due to the altered mixing pattern of food; the food is not digested or absorbed properly. This, combined with reduced absorption of nutrients, causes the bird to use the muscle mass for its energy source. (Courtesy R. Dahlhausen)

enlarged size of the proventriculus and ventriculus

Figure 5: Gross lesions in a blue and gold macaw. Note the enlarged size of the proventriculus and ventriculus. Normally, the proventriculus would not be larger than the liver, but here the organs are displaced due to enlarged proventriculus (in blue at top) and ventriculus (in grey, below the proventriculus. (Courtesy L. Bauck)


Auto-Immune System / Steps Involved

  • The nerve cell ingests the virus; the immune system fails to recognize it and so does not attack it. It is now an auto-immune disorder resulting in infection. Lymphocytes and plasmacytes respond.
  • The lymphocytes produce anti-ganglioside antibodies which triggers a cytokine storm.
  • The leakage of the proteins from the immune complexes initiates inflammation and symptoms.
  • The inflammation brings about more lymphocytes, but these are also infected. This becomes a recurring cycle.

Full Article: Current Research and Advances in Avian Bornavirus and Avian Ganglioneuritis (Proventricular Dilatation Disease-PDD) for Aviculturists and Clinicians 

If more in-depth information is desired, please contact the author through Avian Web.

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