Marek's disease virus (MDV) or Gallid herpesvirus 2 (GaHV-2) is a lymphotropic alphaherpesvirus and causes Marek's disease. Former studies have demonstrated that MDV is spread from chicken to chicken about 2 wk postexposure as infectious dander shed from infected chickens. More recent reports, using highly sensitive quantitative PCR analyses of dander from infected chickens, suggested that MDV replicates and is shed from the chicken much earlier (5–7 days). However, detection of viral DNA in chicken dander does not indicate whether fully infectious virus is present. To determine if viral replication is present in the skin of infected chickens at these early times, expression of a late viral protein indicative of fully productive virus replication was evaluated using fluorescent microscopy. To do this, highly virulent and attenuated recombinant (r)MDV was generated that abundantly expresses the monomeric red fluorescent protein fused to the late UL47 (VP13/14) protein in feather follicle epithelial cells. Detection of viral DNA could be detected in the skin of infected chickens as early as 6 days postinfection (p.i.), consistent with previous reports detecting viral DNA in dander shed from infected chickens. Replication of virulent rMDV was evident in the feather follicles as early as 8 days p.i., while attenuated rMDV replication in the feather follicles was delayed 1–2 days. Former studies, using less sensitive techniques, suggested viral protein expression to occur about 10–12 days p.i. Undoubtedly differences in time of detection can partly be explained by multiple factors including the pathotype of virus, the route of infection, and the age and genetic line of the infected chickens used in different studies. In summary, though viral DNA can be detected as early as 6 days p.i., late viral protein expression, indicative of infectious virus production, occurs 2–3 days after DNA detection, but earlier than previously thought.
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Vol. 56 • No. 4