HPRS-103, the prototype of avian leukosis virus (ALV) subgroup J, was isolated in 1989 from meat-type chickens from commercial flocks where it induces myelocytic myeloid leukosis (ML). The HPRS-103 env gene differs considerably from other ALV subgroups but shows high identity (75-97%) to env-like sequences of the different members of the EAV family of endogenous avian retroviruses. Recently, we have isolated several viruses related to HPRS-103 from cases of ML. Although these isolates showed properties of ALV subgroup J, the majority of them resisted neutralization by HPRS-103-specific serum, suggesting antigenic variation. The nucleotide sequence of the env gene of the variant viruses showed several substitutions resulting in amino acid changes especially clustered in the variable regions hr1, hr2 and vr3. Analysis of the data suggests that selection pressure, probably from the immune response, is driving the antigenic variation among the isolates. Phylogenetic analysis of the sequences showed the evolutionary relationships of the isolates with HPRS-103 and the EAV family of endogenous avian retroviruses. The epidemiological significance of the antigenic variation and the emergence of variant viruses are discussed.


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