Three natural recombinant avian leukosis viruses (ALV; PDRC-1039, PDRC-3246, and PDRC-3249) expressing a subgroup A gp85 envelope protein and containing long terminal repeats (LTR) of endogenous ALV-E viruses were isolated from contaminated commercial Marek's disease vaccines, cloned, and completely sequenced. Their full genomes were analyzed and compared with representative strains of ALV. The proviral DNA of all three isolates displayed 99.3% identity to each other, suggesting a possible common ancestor, even though the contaminating viruses were obtained from three separate vaccine serials produced by two different vaccine manufacturing companies. The contaminating viruses have a genetic organization typical of replication-competent alpharetroviruses. The proviral genomes of PDRC-1039 and PDRC-3246 are 7497 bp long, and the PDRC-3249 is three base pairs shorter because of a deletion of a threonine residue within the gp85 coding region. The LTR, gag, pol, and the transmembrane (TM) region (gp37) of the env gene of all three viruses displayed high identity to endogenous counterpart sequences (>98%). Only the surface (SU) region (gp85) of the env gene displayed high identity with exogenous ALV-A (98.7%). Locus-specific polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis for ALV endogenous sequences (ev loci) in the chicken embryo fibroblasts used to produce the original vaccine vials identified the presence of ev-1, ev-2, ev-3, ev-4, and ev-6 in all three vaccines. Homologous recombination most likely took place to involve the SU region of the env gene because the recombinant viruses only differ in this particular region from the consensus ALV-E. These results suggest that the contaminating ALV isolates probably emerged by recombination of ALV-A with endogenous virus sequences before vaccine preparation.
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Vol. 52 • No. 2