Comparative analysis of immune responses following experimental infection of pigs with European porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus strains of differing virulence

Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV) is difficult to control due to a high mutation rate and the emergence of virulent strains. The objective of this study was to analyze the immunological and pathological responses after infection with the European subtype 3 strain Lena in comparison to subtype 1 strains Belgium A and Lelystad-Ter Huurne (LV). Sixteen pigs were inoculated per strain, and sixteen pigs with PBS. At days 7 and 21 post-inoculation (p.i.), four pigs per group were immunized with an Aujeszky disease vaccine (ADV) to study the immune competence after PRRSV infection. Infection with the Lena strain resulted in fever and clinical signs. This was not observed in the Belgium A or LV-infected pigs. Infection with the Lena strain resulted in high virus titers in serum, low numbers of IFN-gamma secreting cells, a change in leukocyte populations and a delayed antibody response to immunization with ADV. Levels of IL-1 beta, IFN-alpha, IL-10, IL-12, TNE-alpha and IFN-gamma mRNA of the Lena-infected pigs were increased during the first week of infection. For pigs infected with the Belgium A or LV strain, the effects of infection on these parameters were less pronounced, although for the Belgium A-infected pigs, the level of the analyzed cytokines, except for TNF-alpha, and leukocyte populations were comparable to the Lena-infected pigs. These results suggest that while the outcome of infection for the three strains was comparable, with mostly clearance of viremia at day 33 p.i, differences in immune responses were observed, perhaps contributing to their virulence.

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