Genetic resistance to Marek's disease in RPL line-6 chickens is expressed not only at the level of host immunological responses against virus an tumour antigens, but also at the level of target lymphoid cells for virus infection and transformation. The nature of the target cell involved was investigated. Spleen cells from susceptible line-7 chickens adsorbed more Marek's disease virus and turkey herpesvirus in vitro than line-6 spleen cells. In the case of Marek's disease virus this was reflected in the replicative ability of the virus in vivo. Transplantation of thymus fragments from 1-day-old line-7 chickens into thymectomized line-6 chickens conferred a high degree of susceptibility on the latter, but the transplantation of spleen or fragments had no significant effect. The reverse procedure, i.e. grafting of line-6 thymi into line-7 chickens, did not diminish the susceptibility of the recipients. In each treatment group the observed titres of leukocyte-associated viraemia correlated with the susceptibility of the group to Marek's disease. Histologically the grafted thymus fragments became depleted of lymphocytes immediately after transplantation. By 6 days there was substantial recovery, apparently as a result of re-population of the thymic epithelium by host stem cells. This was confirmed by transplanting thymus fragments between individuals of opposite sexes. Karyotype analysis showed that the thymus contained lymphocytes of the sex of the recipient. However, karyotype analysis of lymphoma cells taken from recipient line-6 chickens that had received thymus grafts from line-7 birds of the opposite sex showed that, in the majority of cases, the lymphomas consisted of cells of donor origin. It is concluded that the susceptibility of line-7 chickens is largely attributable to the greater susceptibility of their T-lymphocytes to infection and transformation by Marek's disease virus, and that this susceptibility can be transferred to genetically resistant line-6 birds by adoptive transfer of the cells in the form of thymus fragments.
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