Dynamic Equilibrium of Marek's Disease Genomes During in Vitro Serial Passage

Virus Genes. 2012 Dec;45(3):526-36. doi: 10.1007/s11262-012-0792-z. Epub 2012 Aug 26.


Attenuation of Gallid herpesvirus-2 (GaHV-2), the causative agent of Marek's disease, can occur through serial passage of a virulent field isolate in avian embryo fibroblasts. In order to gain a better understanding of the genes involved in attenuation and associate observed changes in phenotype with specific genetic variations, the genomic DNA sequence of a single GaHV-2 virulent strain (648A) was determined at defined passage intervals. Biological characterization of these "interval-isolates" in chickens previously indicated that the ability to induce transient paralysis was lost by passages 40 and the ability to induce persistent neurological disease was lost after passage 80, coincident with the loss of neoplastic lesion formation. Deep sequencing of the interval-isolates allowed for a detailed cataloguing of the mutations that exist within a single passage population and the frequency with which a given mutation occurs across passages. Gross genetic alterations were identified in both novel and well-characterized genes and cis-acting regions involved in replication and cleavage/packaging. Deletions in genes encoding the virulence factors vLipase, vIL8, and RLORF4, as well as a deletion in the promoter of ICP4, appeared between passages 61 and 101. Three mutations in the virus-encoded telomerase which predominated in late passages were also identified. Overall, the frequency of mutations fluctuated greatly during serial passage and few genetic changes were absolute. This indicates that serial passage of GaHV-2 results in the generation of a collection of genomes with limited sequence heterogeneity.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chick Embryo
  • DNA, Viral / genetics*
  • Fibroblasts / virology
  • Genome, Viral*
  • Genotype
  • Herpesvirus 2, Gallid / genetics*
  • Herpesvirus 2, Gallid / physiology
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing / methods
  • Marek Disease / virology*
  • Mutagenesis, Insertional
  • Nuclear Proteins / genetics
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation
  • Oncogene Proteins, Viral / genetics
  • Open Reading Frames
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Sequence Deletion
  • Serial Passage
  • Trans-Activators / genetics
  • Virus Cultivation / methods
  • Virus Replication


  • DNA, Viral
  • Nuclear Proteins
  • Oncogene Proteins, Viral
  • Trans-Activators
  • vIL-8 protein, Marek's disease virus
  • ICP4 protein, Gallid herpesvirus 2