In order to verify a commonly held assumption that only Massachusetts (Mass) serotype of infectious bronchitis virus (IBV) was prevalent in the United States between the 1930s (when IBV was first isolated) and the 1950s (when the use of commercial IBV vaccines began), we examined 40 IBV field isolates from the 1940s. Thirty-eight of those isolates were recognized as Mass serotype viruses based on their reactivity to Mass-specific monoclonal antibody (Mab) and neutralization by Mass-specific chicken serum. The remaining two isolates, N-M24 and N-M39, that did not react with Mass-specific Mab, resisted neutralization by Mass-specific chicken serum, and were neutralized only by homologous chicken antibody were identified as non-Mass IBV. When the first 900 nucleotides (nt) from the 5′-end of the spike (S1) glycoprotein gene and their deduced amino acid (aa) sequences were compared, the two non-Mass isolates differed from each other by 24% and 28%, respectively. In a similar comparison, the non-Mass viruses N-M24 and N-M39 differed from M28, a Mass-type isolate from the 1940s, by 21% and 22% (nt) and 28% and 27% (aa), respectively. These data indicate that antigenic and genetic diversity among IBV isolates existed even in the 1940s. Interestingly, when the N-terminal region of the S1 of M28 was compared to that of M41, a prototype Mass virus that has undergone countless number of in vivo and in vitro host passages, the two viruses differed by only 2% (nt) and 4% (aa). This finding suggests that frequent genetic changes are not inherent in all IBV genomes.

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