Differences in the immunopathogenesis of several strains of infectious bursal disease virus (IBDV) were compared. The strains included a virulent virus (IBDV-IM) and three vaccine viruses that included an intermediate vaccine virus (IBDV-B2) and two mild vaccine viruses (IBDV-Lukert and IBDV-BVM). The most significant differences were found in the systemic effects of these strains. In comparison with other strains, IBDV-IM antigen was detectable for up to 8 days postinfection (PI) in lymphoid tissues that included spleen and cecal tonsils, whereas only a few IBDV-B2- and IBDV-Lukert- and no IBDV-BVM-inoculated birds had detectable IBDV antigen in these tissues. IBDV-IM induced systemic circulating nitrite levels in over 86% of the birds at days 2 and 3 PI. IBDV-IM suppressed most vigorously the splenic mitogenic response on days 3–8 PI. Among the three vaccine strains, IBDV-B2 was the most virulent of the three, inducing a significant suppression of the mitogenic response (P < 0.05) and the most vigorous lesions in the bursa of Fabricius with the highest possible lesion score of 4 at 3 days PI (P < 0.05). IBDV-BVM was the mildest strain, not inducing any detectable lesions in lymphoid tissue at the tested time points. Whereas all IBDV-BVM-inoculated and 67% and 33% of the IBDV-Lukert- and IBDV-B2-inoculated birds, respectively, had detectable IBDV antigen in the bursa at 4 days postchallenge, none of the IBDV-IM-inoculated birds was positive for IBDV by immunohistochemistry. IBDV-IM induced the highest enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) antibody levels detected at days 8–29 PI (P < 0.05) and the best protection against challenge virus replication in comparison with IBDV-B2 and IBDV-Lukert. Only one of five IBDV-BVM-inoculated birds developed anti-IBDV ELISA antibodies at 29 days PI, and none of the birds was protected against IBDV challenge. We speculate that better protection with more virulent strains was due to more systemic antigenic stimulation on the basis of higher replication of IBDV in extrabursal lymphoid tissues. Interestingly, IBDV-IM did not differ from IBDV-B2 and IBDV-Lukert in its ability to induce T cell accumulation in the bursa at 8 days PI and local interferon-γ induction from days 2 to 5 PI. These results suggested that the local T cell events in the bursa alone may not be indicative of a rapid and protective immune response.

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