Development of a quantitative-competitive polymerase chain reaction assay for serotype 1 Marek's disease virus.
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We have developed a quantitative-competitive (QC) polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for the detection of Marek's disease virus (MDV) DNA. The assay utilizes a competitor DNA that differs from the viral DNA of interest by having a small insertion. The competitor DNA acts as an internal standard for the estimation of viral DNA in an unknown sample. The amount of viral DNA in a sample is quantitated by coamplification in the presence of a known amount of competitor DNA. The same PCR primers that amplify the viral DNA also amplify the competitor DNA. When the amount of competitor is equal to the amount of viral DNA in a sample, there is equal amplification of the competitor and the virus. Thus, we are able to quantitate the viral DNA in an unknown sample. To establish the utility of this assay, in vivo correlations between virulence and virus replication were studied. Our data demonstrated that a more virulent strain of MDV (648A) replicated better in thymus during cytolytic infection than did a less virulent strain (GA). However, no differences in virus titer were observed when these two viruses were propagated in tissue culture. Our data are consistent with the generally held idea that "hot" strains of MDV replicate earlier and better in birds. Thus, QC-PCR is extremely specific and sensitive to measure MDV DNA over a wide range and can be applied to in vivo studies of viral pathogenesis.