Birds are important for the transmission of West Nile virus (WNV) in nature, but the significance of the potential N-linked glycosylation at position 154 in the WNV envelope (E) protein with regard to viral replication in young chickens has not been assessed. In this study, the effect of glycosylation of the WNV E protein on viral pathogenicity in birds was investigated using young domestic chicks. A higher viral load was detected in the blood and the peripheral organs, particularly the hearts, of 2-day-old chicks inoculated with a glycosylated WNV variant compared to those inoculated with the nonglycosylated variant. There was no significant difference in the neutralizing antibody titers and cytokine expression profiles in chickens inoculated with the glycosylated and the nonglycosylated WNV variants. In contrast, no virus was detected in the blood and the tissues of 3-wk-old chicks, although the host immune response was induced to similar levels as in the 2-day-old chicks. These data indicate the utility of young domestic chicks as an animal model of WNV infection; they also indicate that glycosylation of the E protein of WNV enhances multiplication in the blood and peripheral organs, which is associated with the strong pathogenicity of WNV in birds.
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Vol. 55 • No. 4