A polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay that utilizes nested primers to amplify a fragment of the long terminal repeat of exogenous avian leukosis virus (ALV) was developed and evaluated for detection of ALV subgroup J directly from clinical samples. Compilation of sequence data from different endogenous and exogenous ALVs allowed the selection of a conserved set of nested primers specific for the amplification of exogenous ALV subgroups A, B, C, D, and J and excluded amplification of endogenous viruses or endogenous viral sequences within the chicken genome. The nested primers were successfully used in both PCR and reverse transcriptase (RT)-PCR assays to detect genetically diverse ALV-J field isolates. Detection limits of ALV-J isolate ADOL-Hc1 DNA by nested PCR and RNA by RT–nested PCR were superior to detection of group-specific antigen by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) in cell culture. Detection of ALV-J in cloacal swabs by RT–nested PCR was compared with direct detection by antigen-capture (ac)-ELISA; RT–nested PCR detected fewer positive samples than ac-ELISA, suggesting that RT–nested PCR excluded detection of endogenous virus in clinical samples. Detection of ALV-J in plasma samples by RT–nested PCR was compared with virus isolation in C/E chicken embryo fibroblasts; the level of agreement between both assays as applied to plasma samples ranged from low to moderate. The main disagreement between both assays was observed for a group of plasma samples found positive by RT–nested PCR and negative by virus isolation, suggesting that RT–nested PCR detected ALV-J genome in plasma samples of transiently or intermittently infected birds. ALV-J transient and intermittent infection profiles are characterized by inconsistent virus isolation responses throughout the life of a naturally infected flock.
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Vol. 47 • No. 1