Open Access Highly Accessed Case report

Molecular and pathological insights into Chlamydia pecorum-associated sporadic bovine encephalomyelitis (SBE) in Western Australia

Martina Jelocnik1, David Forshaw2, Jennifer Cotter2, Danny Roberts2, Peter Timms13 and Adam Polkinghorne13*

Author Affiliations

1 Institute for Health and Biomedical Innovation, Queensland University of Technology, Kelvin Grove, Queensland 4059, Australia

2 Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia, Albany, Western Australia 6330, Australia

3 Faculty of Science, Health, Education and Engineering, University of the Sunshine Coast, Sippy Downs 4556, Australia

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Veterinary Research 2014, 10:121  doi:10.1186/1746-6148-10-121

Published: 29 May 2014



Despite its global recognition as a ruminant pathogen, cases of Chlamydia pecorum infection in Australian livestock are poorly documented. In this report, a C. pecorum specific Multi Locus Sequence Analysis scheme was used to characterise the C. pecorum strains implicated in two cases of sporadic bovine encephalomyelitis confirmed by necropsy, histopathology and immunohistochemistry. This report provides the first molecular evidence for the presence of mixed infections of C. pecorum strains in Australian cattle.

Case presentation

Affected animals were two markedly depressed, dehydrated and blind calves, 12 and 16 weeks old. The calves were euthanized and necropsied. In one calf, a severe fibrinous polyserositis was noted with excess joint fluid in all joints whereas in the other, no significant lesions were seen. No gross abnormalities were noted in the brain of either calf. Histopathological lesions seen in both calves included: multifocal, severe, subacute meningoencephalitis with vasculitis, fibrinocellular thrombosis and malacia; diffuse, mild, acute interstitial pneumonia; and diffuse, subacute epicarditis, severe in the calf with gross serositis. Immunohistochemical labelling of chlamydial antigen in brain, spleen and lung from the two affected calves and brain from two archived cases, localised the antigen to the cytoplasm of endothelium, mesothelium and macrophages. C. pecorum specific qPCR, showed dissemination of the pathogen to multiple organs. Phylogenetic comparisons with other C. pecorum bovine strains from Australia, Europe and the USA revealed the presence of two genetically distinct sequence types (ST). The predominant ST detected in the brain, heart, lung and liver of both calves was identical to the C. pecorum ST previously described in cases of SBE. A second ST detected in an ileal tissue sample from one of the calves, clustered with previously typed faecal bovine isolates.


This report provides the first data to suggest that identical C. pecorum STs may be associated with SBE in geographically separated countries and that these may be distinct from those found in the gastrointestinal tract. This report provides a platform for further investigations into SBE and for understanding the genetic relationships that exist between C. pecorum strains detected in association with other infectious diseases in livestock.

Sporadic bovine encephalomyelitis; Chlamydia pecorum; Cattle; MLSA; Histopathology; Immunohistochemistry