Avian leukosis viruses (ALVs) are common in many poultry flocks and can be detected using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay or any other test designed to identify p27, the group-specific antigen located in gag. However, endogenous retroviruses expressing p27 are often present and can be confused with exogenous ALVs. A more specific and informative assay involves targeting the variable envelope glycoprotein gene (gp85) that is the basis for dividing ALVs into their different subgroups. We designed polymerase chain reaction (PCR) primers that would specifically detect and amplify viruses from each of the six ALV subgroups: A, B, C, D, E, and J. Subgroup B and D envelopes are related, and our B-specific primers also amplified subgroup D viruses. We also designed a set of common primers to amplify any ALV subgroup virus. To demonstrate the usefulness of these primers, we obtained from the Center for Veterinary Biologics in Iowa culture supernatant from chicken embryo fibroblasts infected with an ALV that was found to be a contaminant in two commercial Marek's disease vaccines. Using our PCR primers, we demonstrate that the contaminant was a subgroup A ALV. We cloned and sequenced a portion of the envelope gene and confirmed that the ALV was a subgroup A virus. Unlike typical subgroup A viruses, the contaminant ALV grew very slowly in cell culture. We also cloned and sequenced a portion of the long terminal repeat (LTR) from the contaminant virus. The LTR was found to be similar to those LTRs found in endogenous ALVs (subgroup E) and very dissimilar to LTRs normally found in subgroup A viruses. The E-like LTR probably explains why the contaminant grew so poorly in cell culture.
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Vol. 51 • No. 3