Avian leukosis virus

Avian leukosis virus (ALV) infects mainly chickens but can also infect pheasants, partridges and quail. It belongs to the Alpharetrovirus genus of the family Retroviridae. It is divided into subgroups A, B, C, D, E and J, depending on their viral envelope proteins which determine immune response and host range. The ALV envelope encases a capsid and a single stranded RNA genome.

Associated diseases:

Infection with ALV can cause tumour formation (lymphoid leukosis) in the liver, spleen, bursa and are found occasionally in the kidneys and sex organs. The nature of the tumours and their frequency depend on virus strain, chicken breed, age, and route of infection.

Clinical signs:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Weakness
  • Diarrhoea
  • Dehydration
  • Weight loss
  • Depression
  • Enlarged bursa and sometimes an enlarged liver
  • Infected birds may not necessarily develop tumours, but they may lay fewer eggs

Disease transmission:

The virus is not highly contagious and is readily inactivated by disinfectants. The virus can be vertically transmitted (passed directly from parent to offspring). Hens are able to shed the virus or viral components into eggs. Chickens infected at hatching shed virus their entire lives. Horizontal transmission (spread from bird to bird) can also occur by the faecal-oral route.

Disease prevalence:

ALV is present world wide in commercial chickens, although some breeding companies have put erradication schemes in place.

Impact for Society – what are we doing?

Economic losses due to reduced productivity and ALV mortality are world-wide, and estimated to be millions of pounds each year. Research at the Institute is focussed on discovering what drives the viral infection and how the genetic makeup of chickens alters how susceptible they are. Research into determining how the virus interacts with the host to create tumours is also ongoing.

Research papers

Lee H J, Lee K Y, Park Y H, Choi H J, Yao Y, Nair V, Han J Y (2017)

Veterinary Research 48 (1), 48
Lee H J, Lee K Y, Jung K M, Park K J, Lee K O, Suh J-Y, Yao Y, Nair V, Han J Y (2017)

Developmental and Comparative Immunology 77 (Supp C), 340-349
Gao Y, Zhang Y, Yao Y, Guan X, Liu Y, Qi X, Wang Y, Liu C, Zhang Y, Gao H, Nair V, Wang X, Gao Y (2016)

Oncotarget 7 (49), 80275-80287
Yao Y, Nair V (2016)

Molecular Detection of Animal Viral Pathogens (edited by Lui Dongyou, CRC Press) chapter 17, 145-156
Yao Y, Smith L P, Nair V, Watson M (2014)

Journal of Virology 88 (1), 2-9

Trim content

® The Pirbright Institute 2017 | A company limited by guarantee, registered in England no. 559784. The Institute is also a registered charity.