Fowlpox virus (FWPV) has been isolated from vaccinated chicken flocks during subsequent fowlpox outbreaks that were characterized by a high degree of mortality and significant economic losses. This inability of current vaccines to induce adequate immunity in poultry could be reflective of an antigenic and/or biologic distinctiveness of FWPV field isolates. In this regard, whereas an infectious reticuloendotheliosis virus (REV) provirus is present in the majority of the field viruses' genomes, only remnants of REV long terminal repeats (LTR) have been retained in the DNAs of each vaccine strain. Although it has not been demonstrated whether the partial LTRs can provide an avenue for FWPV to reacquire the REV provirus by homologous recombination, utilizing viruses of which genomes lack any known integrated retroviral sequences could resolve concern over this issue. Therefore, such an entity was created by genetically modifying a recently isolated field strain of FWPV. This selection, in lieu of a commercial vaccine virus, as the progenitor was based on the probability that a virus circulating in the environment would be more antigenically similar to others in this locale and thus might be a better candidate for vaccine development. A comparison in vivo of the pathogenic traits of the parental wild-type field isolate, its genetically modified progeny, and a rescue mutant in whose genome the REV provirus was inserted at its previous location, indicated that elimination of the provirus sequence correlated with reduced virulence. However, even with elimination of the parasitic REV, the modified FWPV was still slightly more invasive than a commercial vaccine virus. Interestingly, both types of attenuated FWPV elicited a similar degree of antibody production in inoculated chickens and afforded them protection against a subsequent challenge by a field virus, the origin of which was temporally and geographically distinct from that of the progenitor strain. Due to its antigenicity being retained despite a decrease in virulence, this REV-less FWPV could potentially be developed as a vaccine against fowlpox.
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Vol. 49 • No. 3