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Concept: Marek's disease


Could some vaccines drive the evolution of more virulent pathogens? Conventional wisdom is that natural selection will remove highly lethal pathogens if host death greatly reduces transmission. Vaccines that keep hosts alive but still allow transmission could thus allow very virulent strains to circulate in a population. Here we show experimentally that immunization of chickens against Marek’s disease virus enhances the fitness of more virulent strains, making it possible for hyperpathogenic strains to transmit. Immunity elicited by direct vaccination or by maternal vaccination prolongs host survival but does not prevent infection, viral replication or transmission, thus extending the infectious periods of strains otherwise too lethal to persist. Our data show that anti-disease vaccines that do not prevent transmission can create conditions that promote the emergence of pathogen strains that cause more severe disease in unvaccinated hosts.

Concepts: Immune system, Infectious disease, Natural selection, Microbiology, Malaria, Vaccination, Smallpox, Marek's disease


Although it has become increasingly popular to keep backyard chickens in the United States, few studies have provided information about these flocks. An online survey of backyard chicken owners was conducted, advertised through Master Gardeners' websites, social platforms, and other sites. The survey had 56 questions about flock history, husbandry, health care, and owner attitudes and demographics. Surveys received (n = 1,487) came almost equally from urban, suburban, and rural areas. Most (71%) respondents owned fewer than 10 chickens and had kept chickens for less than 5 yr (70%). Major reasons for keeping chickens were as food for home use (95%), gardening partners (63%), pets (57%), or a combination of these. Rural respondents had larger flocks (P ≤ 0.001) and were more likely to keep chickens as a source of income or for show (P ≤ 0.001) than urban and suburban respondents. Owners thought that eggs/meat from their chickens were more nutritious (86%), safer to consume (84%), and tasted better (95%) than store-bought products, and also that the health and welfare of their chickens was better (95%) than on commercial farms. The majority (59%) indicated no flock health problems in the last 12 mo. However, there was a lack of awareness about some poultry health conditions. Many knew either little or nothing about exotic Newcastle or Marek’s disease, and most (61%) did not vaccinate against Marek’s. Respondents wanted to learn more about various flock management topics, especially how to detect (64%) and treat (66%) health problems. The Internet was the main source of information (87%) used by backyard flock owners, followed by books/magazines (62%) and feed stores (40%). Minimizing predation was the most cited challenge (49%), followed by providing adequate feed at low cost (28%), dealing with soil management (25%), and complying with zoning regulations (23%). The evidence obtained from this survey will help to determine what information and resources are needed to maintain good biosecurity and improve the health and welfare of backyard flocks.

Concepts: Public health, Health, United States, Chicken, Gross domestic product, Property, Marek's disease, Gardening


Marek’s Disease Virus (MDV) is an alphaherpesvirus that infects chickens, transforms CD4+ T cells and causes deadly lymphomas. In addition, MDV induces immunosuppression early during infection by inducing cell death of the infected lymphocytes, and potentially due to activation of regulatory T (Treg)-cells. Furthermore, immunosuppression also occurs during the transformation phase of the disease; however, it is still unknown how the disease can suppress immune response prior or after lymphoma formation. Here, we demonstrated that chicken TGF-beta+ Treg cells are found in different lymphoid tissues, with the highest levels found in the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (cecal tonsil: CT), fostering an immune-privileged microenvironment exerted by TGF-beta. Surprisingly, significantly higher frequencies of TGF-beta+ Treg cells are found in the spleens of MDV-susceptible chicken lines compared to the resistant line, suggesting an association between TGF-beta+ Treg cells and host susceptibility to lymphoma formation. Experimental infection with a virulent MDV elevated the levels of TGF-beta+ Treg cells in the lungs as early as 4 days post infection, and during the transformation phase of the disease in the spleens. In contrast to TGF-beta+ Treg cells, the levels of CD4+CD25+ T cells remained unchanged during the infection and transformation phase of the disease. Furthermore, our results demonstrate that the induction of TGF-beta+ Treg cells is associated with pathogenesis of the disease, as the vaccine strain of MDV did not induce TGF-beta+ Treg cells. Similar to human haematopoietic malignant cells, MDV-induced lymphoma cells expressed high levels of TGF-beta but very low levels of TGF-beta receptor I and II genes. The results confirm that COX-2/ PGE2 pathway is involved in immunosuppression induced by MDV-lymphoma cells. Taken together, our results revealed a novel TGF-beta+ Treg subset in chickens that is activated during MDV infection and tumour formation.

Concepts: Immune system, White blood cell, Cancer, Infection, Lymphatic system, Chicken, Induced demand, Marek's disease


Marek’s disease virus (MDV) is an alphaherpesvirus that causes deadly T-cell lymphomas in chickens and serves as a natural small animal model for virus-induced tumor formation. In vivo, MDV lytically replicates in B cells that transfer the virus to T cells in which the virus establishes latency. MDV also malignantly transforms CD4+ T cells with a Treg signature, ultimately resulting in deadly lymphomas. No in vitro infection system for primary target cells of MDV has been available due to the short-lived nature of these cells in culture. Recently, we characterized cytokines and monoclonal antibodies that promote survival of cultured chicken B and T cells. We used these survival stimuli to establish a culture system that allows efficient infection of B and T cells with MDV. We were able to productively infect with MDV B cells isolated from spleen, bursa or blood cultured in the presence of soluble CD40L. Virus was readily transferred from infected B to T cells stimulated with an anti-TCRαVβ1 antibody, thus recapitulating the in vivo situation in the culture dish. Infected T cells could then be maintained in culture for at least 90 d in the absence of TCR stimulation, which allowed the establishment of MDV-transformed lymphoblastoid cell lines (LCL). The immortalized cells had a signature comparable to MDV-transformed CD4+ α/β T cells present in tumors. In summary, we have developed a novel in vitro system that precisely reflects the life cycle of an oncogenic herpesivrus in vivo and will allow us to investigate the interaction between virus and target cells in an easily accessible system.

Concepts: Protein, Infection, B cell, T cell receptor, Culture, Herpesviridae, Chicken, Marek's disease


Marek’s disease virus (MDV) resides in the genus Mardivirus in the family Herpesviridae. MDV is a highly contagious virus that can cause neurological lesions, lymphocytic proliferation, immune suppression, and death in avian species, including Galliformes (chickens, quails, partridges, and pheasants), Strigiformes (owls), Anseriformes (ducks, geese, and swans), and Falconiformes (kestrels).

Concepts: Bird, Herpesviridae, Chicken, Animal virology, Phasianidae, Galliformes, Herpesviruses, Marek's disease


Marek’s disease is a multi-faceted highly contagious disease affecting chickens caused by the Marek’s disease alphaherpesvirus (MDV). MDV early infection induces a transient immunosuppression, which is associated with thymus and bursa of Fabricius atrophy. Little is known about the cellular processes involved in primary lymphoid organ atrophy. Here, by in situ TUNEL assay, we demonstrate that MDV infection results in a high level of apoptosis in the thymus and bursa of Fabricius, which is concomitant to the MDV lytic cycle. Interestingly, we observed that in the thymus most of the MDV infected cells at 6 days post-infection (dpi) were apoptotic, whereas in the bursa of Fabricius most of the apoptotic cells were uninfected suggesting that MDV triggers apoptosis by two different modes in these two primary lymphoid organs. In addition, a high decrease of cell proliferation was observed from 6 to 14 dpi in the bursa of Fabricius follicles, and not in the thymus. Finally, with an adapted absolute blood lymphocyte count, we demonstrate a major B-lymphopenia during the two 1st weeks of infection, and propose this method as a potent non-invasive tool to diagnose MDV bursa of Fabricius infection and atrophy. Our results demonstrate that the thymus and bursa of Fabricius atrophies are related to different cell mechanisms, with different temporalities, that affect infected and uninfected cells.

Concepts: Immune system, White blood cell, Infectious disease, Lymph node, B cell, Organ, Lymphatic system, Marek's disease


A variety of techniques have been developed as diagnostic tools for the differential diagnosis of tumours produced by Marek’s disease virus (MDV) from those induced by avian leukosis virus (ALV) and reticuloendotheliosis virus (REV). However, most current techniques are unreliable when used in formalin-fixed paraffin embedded (FFPE) tissues, which many times is the only sample type available for definitive diagnosis. A collection of tumours was generated by the inoculation of different strains of MDV, REV or ALV singularly or in combination. FFPE tissue sections from tumour and non-tumour tissues were analyzed by optimized immunohistochemistry (IHC) techniques and traditional as well as quantitative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) with newly designed primers ideal for DNA fragmented by fixation. IHC and PCR results were highly sensitive and specific in tissues from single-infected birds. Virus quantity was higher in tumours compared to non-tumour spleens from MD-infected birds. Thus, a diagnosis of MD using FFPE sections alone may be sufficient for the diagnosis of MD by demonstration of high quantities of viral antigens or genome in tumour cells, along with the absence of other tumour viruses by traditional PCR, and standard criteria is met based on clinical history and histology. IHC furthermore allowed detection of the specific cells that were infected with different viruses in tumours from birds that had been inoculated simultaneously with multiple viruses. Following validation with field samples, these new protocols can be applied for both diagnostic and research purposes to help accurately identify avian tumour viruses in routine FFPE tissue sections.

Concepts: DNA, Polymerase chain reaction, Virus, Anatomical pathology, Herpesviridae, DNA polymerase, Thermus aquaticus, Marek's disease


Loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) methods to detect chicken infectious anemia virus (CIAV), reticuloendotheliosis virus (REV), and Marek’s disease virus (MDV), and a reverse transcription (RT)-LAMP assay to detect infectious bursal disease virus (IBDV), were developed. The CIAV-LAMP, REV-LAMP, MDV-LAMP, and IBDV-RT-LAMP methods were performed using four sets of six primers targeting the VP1 gene of CIAV, the gp90 gene of REV, the Meq gene of MDV, and the VP2 gene of IBDV. The results (a change in color) were observed visually. The methods showed high specificity and sensitivity. The detection limits were 50 genomic copies of CIAV, 16 genomic copies of REV, 20 genomic copies of MDV, and 250 genomic copies of IBDV. When used to test clinical samples, the results of the LAMP assays were in 100% agreement with a previously described PCR. Therefore, the LAMP assays are simple, rapid, highly sensitive, and specific methods for detecting four immune-suppressive viruses.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Genetics, Genome, Sensitivity and specificity, Herpesviridae, Marek's disease


Marek’s disease virus (MDV) is an oncogenic alphaherpesvirus of Gallus gallus, the domesticated chicken. Control strategies rely upon vaccination with live attenuated viruses of antigenically similar avian herpesviruses or attenuated strains of MDV. Recent studies in other viruses have shown that recoding certain viral genes to employ synonymous but rarely-used codon pairs resulted in viral attenuation. We deoptimized two MDV proteins, UL54/ICP27 and UL49/VP22, and demonstrate that the more severely deoptimized variant of UL54 accumulates significantly less gene product in vitro. Using these UL54 deoptimized mutants, we further demonstrate that animals infected with the UL54-recoded recombinant virus exhibited decreased viral genome copy number in lymphocytes, reduced lymphoid atrophy and reduced tumor incidence. This study demonstrates that codon pair deoptimization of a single viral gene can produce attenuated strains of MDV. This approach may be useful as a rational way of making novel live attenuated virus vaccines for MDV.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Virus, Genome, Herpesviridae, Chicken, Marek's disease


Marek’s disease has brought enormous loss in chicken production worldwide and the increasing virulence of Marek’s disease virus (MDV) became a severe problem. To better understand the genetic basis underlying, a Chinese MDV strain HNGS101 isolated from immunized chickens was sequenced. Phylogenetic analysis implied that HNGS101 showed more relatedness to Eurasian strains than GaHV-2 circulating in North America. Recombination networks analysis showed the evidence of recombination among MDV strains, and several recombination events in the UL and US region were found. Further analysis indicated that the HNGS101 strain seemed to be generated by the recombination of the earliest Eurasian strains and North American strains in the US region, which may be responsible for the MD outbreaks in China. In summary,this is the first report to demonstrate recombination events among MDV strains, which may shed light on the mechanism of virulence enhancement.

Concepts: Epidemiology, Virus, United States, Herpesviridae, Chicken, North America, Americas, Marek's disease