By adapting a very virulent fowl adenovirus serotype 4 (FAdV-4) to a fibroblast cell line (QT35) instead of growing the virus in chicken embryo liver cells or chicken kidney cells, it was possible to attenuate the virus. Birds infected with the attenuated virus (FAdV-4/QT35) on the first day of life expressed no adverse clinical signs and no mortality. Intramuscular challenge with the virulent virus grown on chicken embryo liver cells (FAdV-4/CEL) at 21 days of life induced high mortality in previously nonvaccinated birds, whereas none of the birds vaccinated at 1 day old with FAdV-4/QT35 died due to this challenge. Applying enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay and virus neutralization assay, only a weak antibody response could be detected in some birds following vaccination, a response that increased directly after challenge. Nonvaccinated birds displayed a delayed development of antibodies after challenge as compared to previously vaccinated birds. Even birds that did not develop a measurable neutralizing antibody titer prior to challenge were protected from the adverse effects of the virulent FAdV-4/CEL, a phenomenon not described so far for FAdVs. Altogether, the present investigation underlines that neutralizing antibodies are not needed to protect chickens against a severe infection with a virulent fowl adenovirus.
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Vol. 54 • No. 2