Functional evaluation of the role of reticuloendotheliosis virus long terminal repeat (LTR) integrated into the genome of a field strain of Marek's disease virus

MDV-GX0101 is a field strain of Marek's disease virus with a naturally occurring insertion of the reticuloendotheliosis virus (REV) LTR fragment. In order to study the biological properties of REV-LTR insertion in the MDV genome, we constructed a full-length infectious BAC clone of MDV-GX0101 strain and deleted the LTR sequences by BAC mutagenesis. The pathogenic properties of the LTR-deleted virus were evaluated in infected SPF birds. The study demonstrated that the LTR-deleted virus had a stronger inhibitory effect on the growth rates of the infected birds and induced stronger immunosuppressive effects. Surprisingly, however, the ability for horizontal transmission of the LTR-deleted virus appeared to be significantly weaker than its parental LTR-intact virus. Even though the precise molecular mechanisms are still not clear, the results of our studies demonstrate that the retention of the REV-LTR in the MDV genome decreases its pathogenic effects but increases its potential for horizontal transmission.

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