Arkansas (Ark)-type infectious bronchitis virus (IBV) subpopulations with an S gene sequence distinct from the vaccine predominant consensus were previously found in the upper respiratory tract of chickens within 3 days after inoculation. This finding indicated that a distinct virus subpopulation was rapidly positively selected by the chicken upper respiratory tract. We hypothesized that during host invasion, the replicating IBV population further changes as it confronts the distinct environments of different tissues, leading to selection of the most fit population. We inoculated 15-day-old chickens with 104 50% embryo infective doses of an Ark-type IBV commercial vaccine via the ocular and nasal routes and characterized the sequences of the S1 gene of IBV contained in tear fluid, trachea, and reproductive tract of individual chickens at different times postinoculation. The predominant IBV phenotype contained in the vaccine (before inoculation) became a minor or nondetectable population at all times in all tissues after replication in the majority of the chickens, corroborating our previous findings. Five new predominant populations designated component (C) 1 through C5, showing distinct nonsynonymous changes, i.e., nucleotide changes resulting in different amino acids encoded and thus in a phenotypic change of the predominant virus population, were detected in the tissues or fluids of individual vaccinated chickens. Due to the different biochemical properties of some amino acids that changed in the S1 glycoprotein, we anticipate that phenotypic shift occurred during the invasion process. Significant differences were detected in the incidence of some distinct IBV predominant populations in tissues and fluids; e.g., phenotype C1 showed the highest incidence in the reproductive tract of the chickens, achieving a significant difference versus its incidence in the trachea (P < 0.05). These results indicate for the first time that IBV undergoes intraspatial variation during host invasion, i.e., the dominant genotype/phenotype further changes during host invasion as the microenvironment of distinct tissues exerts selective pressure on the replicating virus population.
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Vol. 54 • No. 2