Isolation of digital dermatitis treponemes from hoof lesions in Wild North American Elk (Cervus elaphus) in Washington State, USA

J Clin Microbiol. 2015 Jan;53(1):88-94. doi: 10.1128/JCM.02276-14. Epub 2014 Oct 29.


Since 2008, a large increase in the numbers of cases of lameness have been seen in wild North American elk (Cervus elaphus) from Washington State, USA. The most recent cases manifested as foot lesions similar both clinically and pathologically to those seen in digital dermatitis (DD) in cattle and sheep, a disease with a bacterial etiopathogenesis. To determine whether the same bacteria considered responsible for DD are associated with elk lameness, lesion samples were subjected to bacterial isolation studies and PCR assays for three phylogroups of relevant DD treponemes. The DD treponemes were isolated from lesional tissues but not from control feet or other areas of the diseased foot (including the coronary band or interdigital space), suggesting that the bacteria are strongly associated with DD lesions and may therefore be causal. In addition, PCR analysis revealed that all three unique DD treponeme phylotypes were found in elk hoof disease, and in 23% of samples, all 3 DD-associated treponemes were present in lesions. Sequence analysis of the 16S rRNA gene showed that the elk lesion treponemes were phylogenetically almost identical to those isolated from cattle and sheep DD lesions. The isolates were particularly similar to two of the three culturable DD treponeme phylotypes: specifically, the Treponema medium/Treponema vincentii-like and Treponema phagedenis-like DD spirochetes. The third treponeme culturable phylogroup (Treponema pedis), although detected by PCR, was not isolated. This is the first report describing isolation of DD treponemes from a wildlife host, suggesting that the disease may be evolving to include a wider spectrum of cloven-hoofed animals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Diseases / microbiology*
  • Animals
  • Animals, Wild
  • Digital Dermatitis / microbiology*
  • Hoof and Claw / microbiology*
  • Hoof and Claw / pathology*
  • Phylogeny
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Treponema / classification
  • Treponema / genetics
  • Treponema / isolation & purification*
  • Treponemal Infections / veterinary*
  • Washington


  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S