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Characterizing in vivo stability and potential interactions of a UL5 helicase-primase mutation previously shown to reduce virulence and in vivo replication of Marek's disease virus

Hildebrandt, Evin, Dunn, John R., Cheng, Hans H.
Virus research 2015 v.203 pp. 1-3
DNA helicases, Mardivirus, Marek disease, chickens, flocks, point mutation, vaccine development, vaccines, virulence, virus replication, viruses
The unpredictable yet recurrent emergence of more virulent field strains of Marek's disease virus (MDV) in Marek's disease (MD) vaccinated flocks of chickens has prompted concerns regarding the sustainability of MD vaccines. A single non-synonymous point mutation (I682R) within the UL5 helicase-primase unit was shown to reduce virulence by over 90%. Considering in vitro attenuation is commonly used to generate MD vaccines, this result prompted further characterization of this mutation, particularly to better understand the potential of point mutations for use in vaccine development. Incorporation of a second non-synonymous point mutation (UL46-Q117R; tegument) found at high frequencies in the same attenuated MDV as the UL5 mutation did not further reduce virulence compared to the single UL5 mutation alone. Furthermore, when the UL5-containing MDV was serially passed three times in vivo, the resulting viruses did not show increases in replication or virulence, and no revertant viruses could be detected. This suggests that point mutations that reduce fitness and in vivo replication may be more stable than initially anticipated, which may alleviate some concerns regarding rationally designed MD vaccines based upon point mutations.