A live attenuated Mycoplasma gallisepticum vaccine, ts-11, has been used for control of M. gallisepticum in several countries. The rapid serum agglutination test is usually used as an indicator of flock response to vaccination; however, in some flocks, the detected response may be weak or absent. We investigated whether the low level, or lack, of systemic antibodies in ts-11-vaccinated flocks is correlated with susceptibility to infection after challenge with a virulent M. gallisepticum strain.
Birds from 2 separate ts-11-vaccinated commercial flocks with no, or weak, rapid serum agglutination responses (at 11 or 14 wk postvaccination) were randomly selected and subjected to aerosol challenge with either M. gallisepticum strain Ap3AS or sterile mycoplasma broth. A group of nonvaccinated specific-pathogen-free chickens at similar age were also exposed to aerosolization with M. gallisepticum strain Ap3AS and used as positive controls. Postmortem examination of the birds, performed 2 wk after challenge, revealed no significant difference in microscopic tracheal lesions or mucosal thicknesses between the ts-11-vaccinated field birds irrespective of their aerosolization treatment. However, both microscopic tracheal lesions and tracheal mucosal thicknesses of nonvaccinated challenged birds were significantly greater than those of ts-11 vaccinates. Hence, broiler breeders vaccinated in the field showed significant protection against virulent M. gallisepticum challenge even when no serum antibody was detected by rapid serum agglutination test. These results reveal that seroconversion detected by rapid serum agglutination test after ts-11 vaccination is not a reliable predictor of protection against M. gallisepticum infection. The possible significance of local antibody response and cell-mediated immunity against M. gallisepticum infection is discussed.