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In an earlier study we found that a substantial percentage of mice surviving infection with canine distemper virus (CDV) slowly developed a morbid obesity syndrome. In the present study we wished to explore the role of the virus in the development of this syndrome. The distribution of viral antigen(s) in brains of pre-obese animals shortly after intracerebral infection was mapped using immunocytochemical procedures. A distinctive pattern of cell labeling was found, extending from the anterior periventricular hypothalamus ventrally and caudally toward the posterior hypothalamus. The heaviest concentration of labeled cells was found in the arcuate-ventromedial area. Viral antigen-containing cells were not found in obese brain specimens. However, the latter revealed, by glial fibrillary acidic protein immunostaining, a gliotic lesion of the hypothalamus that approximated topographically the pattern of virus tropism. Examination of the arcuate area revealed a significant reduction in tyrosine hydroxylase immunoreactive and pro-opiomelanocortin mRNA positive perikarya. We suggest that the loss of critical populations of hypothalamic neurons as a result of an antecedent viral infection led ultimately to the development of morbid obesity.