Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is a highly contagious viral disease of cloven-hoofed animals. For several years, vaccination of animals, which had proven to be successful for the eradication of the disease, has been forbidden in the United States and the European Community because of the difficulty of differentiating between vaccinated and infected animals. In this study, detailed investigations of the bovine humoral immune response against FMD virus (FMDV) were performed with the aim of identifying viral epitopes recognized specifically by sera derived from FMDV-infected animals. The use of overlapping 15-mer synthetic peptides, covering the whole open reading frame of FMDV strain O1K in a peptide enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, allowed the identification of 12 FMDV strain O1K-specific linear B-cell epitopes. Six of these linear B-cell epitopes, located in the nonstructural proteins, were used in further assays to compare the reactivities of sera from vaccinated and infected cattle. Antibodies recognizing these peptides could be detected only in sera derived from infected cattle. In further experiments, the reactivity of the six peptides with sera from animals infected with different strains of FMDV was tested, and strain-independent infection-specific epitopes were identified. Thus, these results clearly demonstrate the ability of a simple peptide-based assay to discriminate between infected and conventionally FMD-vaccinated animals.
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