Infectious laryngotracheitis is an important respiratory disease of chickens that is caused by an alphaherpesvirus [infectious laryngotracheitis virus (ILTV); ]. As herpesvirus envelope glycoproteins are main targets of the humoral host immune response, they are of particular interest for development of vaccines, as well as of diagnostic tools. The conserved, -glycosylated envelope protein gC has been identified as a major surface antigen of ILTV. To study the function of gC, we now isolated a gC-deleted ILTV recombinant as well as a gC rescuant after co-transfection of permissive chicken cells with virion DNA and transfer plasmids containing engineered subgenomic fragments. Like other alphaherpesvirus homologues, ILTV gC proved to be non-essential for replication. ILTV-ΔgC exhibited delayed penetration kinetics and slightly reduced plaque sizes in cultured chicken cells, whereas virus titres were not reduced significantly compared with wild-type or gC-rescued virus. studies revealed that ILTV-ΔgC is attenuated in chickens. However, infection with high doses of ILTV-ΔgC was still fatal for approximately 20 % of the animals, whereas wild-type or gC-rescued ILTV led to 50 % mortality. Interestingly, innate and specific immune responses against ILTV-ΔgC were not reduced but enhanced, and surviving chickens were protected completely against challenge infection. Furthermore, ILTV-ΔgC might serve as a basis for marker vaccines permitting differentiation between vaccinated and field-virus-infected animals, as gC-specific antibodies could be detected easily in sera of animals infected with wild-type ILTV.


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