The etiopathogenesis of the skin disease digital dermatitis (DD), an important cause of lameness in cattle, remains uncertain. Microscopically, the disease appears to be polymicrobial, with spirochetes as the predominant bacteria. The objective of this study was to identify the main part of the bacteria involved in DD lesions of cattle by using culture-independent molecular methods. Ten different phylotypes of Treponema were identified either by 16S rRNA gene sequencing of bacteria from DD lesions or by fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) analysis using phylotype-specific 16S rRNA-directed oligonucleotide probes. Two phylotypes, phylotype 1 (PT1) and PT2, were not closely related to any characterized treponemal species. PT7 was 99.3% identical to Treponema denticola, while PT9 resembled T. vincentii by 96%. The remaining phylotypes, PT3, PT4, PT5, PT6, and PT8, and Treponema brennaborense had previously been isolated from DD lesions. Forty DD biopsy specimens were examined for Treponema by FISH. With one exception, all of the biopsy specimens revealed epidermotropic, intermingled infection with three or more different phylotypes (mean, 4.7). The most prevalent species were PT1 (95%), PT6 (93%), and PT3 (85%). While colonization by PT3 was confined to the surface of the epidermis, both PT1 and PT6 invaded deep into the stratum spinosum and were seen in ulcerated dermal papillae. In two cases, all 10 phylotypes were demonstrated. Furthermore, FISH with a Treponema group-specific probe showed that Treponema accounted for more than 90% of the total bacterial population in the biopsy specimens. These data strongly suggest that a group of apparently symbiotic Treponema species are involved as primary bacterial pathogens in DD.
- 16S rRNA gene analysis
- Digital dermatitis
- Fluorescence In Situ Hybridization