Our earlier studies have shown that retrovirus insertion into herpesvirus is an efficient process that engenders recombinant herpesviruses with altered biological properties. The RM1 clone is derived from the JM strain of Marek's disease virus (MDV) through retrovirus insertional mutagenesis and contains sequences of reticuloendotheliosis virus inserted at the junction of the internal repeat and unique short regions of the genome. In previous studies, the RM1 clone appeared attenuated for oncogenicity but caused marked atrophy of the thymic lobes. The present studies represent a detailed analysis of the biological characteristics of the RM1 clone in order to better understand mechanisms of oncogenicity and gene function of MDV. RM1 was almost fully attenuated for oncogenicity but retained other in vivo properties of virulent viruses such as thymic and bursal atrophy, early immunosuppression, early cytolytic infection followed by efficient replication, and contact spread - all normally absent in attenuated strains. This suggests that, for serotype 1 MDV, oncogenicity is not tightly linked with immunodepression or viral replication and that these properties may be controlled by different genes or mechanisms. The mutation was stable through serial passage of the virus in chickens as determined by molecular analysis. None of the mutant viruses demonstrated expansion of the 132-bp repeat region of the genome, indicating that such expansion is not required for attenuation. Chickens vaccinated with RM1 clones were protected against challenge with virulent MDV, and levels of protection exceeded those of other attenuated serotype 1 vaccine viruses. Thus, attenuation by selective mutation may be an advantageous strategy for development of serotype 1 Marek's disease vaccines.
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