Genital epithelial tumors of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus [Tt]) and Burmeister's porpoises (Phocoena spinipinnis) were formerly shown to be associated with papillomavirus (PV) infection. Papillomaviruses are highly prevalent viruses involved in the development of various tumor types in a wide range of animals, and so-called high-risk PVs contribute to malignant progression. In marine mammals, the incidence and prevalence of PV infection, transmission pathways, and persistence of infection are largely unknown. Using virus-like particles of bottlenose dolphin PV type 1 (TtPV1) as the antigen, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) studies were conducted to evaluate PV antibody prevalence in bottlenose dolphins. In total, sera obtained from 115 dolphins were examined. Fifty-one percent of captive dolphins (n=18 of 35) and 90% of free-ranging dolphins (n=72 of 80) were antibody positive. Higher ELISA reactivity was observed among males compared with females. Sexually immature dolphins appeared more likely to seroconvert with age. Besides determining their PV antibody prevalence, each animal was also assessed for the presence of orogenital tumors. Interestingly, the mean age of free-ranging dolphins with tumors (n=21) was 11.2 yr compared with 29.9 yr in captive dolphins with tumors (n=9). Results from the current study suggest PV infection in bottlenose dolphins is common, that the main route of PV transmission among them may be horizontal, and that orogenital neoplasia may develop in early life stages of certain free-ranging bottlenose dolphins.
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Vol. 46 • No. 1