Marek's disease virus (MDV) is an acute transforming alphaherpesvirus of chickens that causes Marek's disease. During the infection of chickens, MDV establishes latency in CD4+ (T-helper) cells, which are also the target of transformation. The study of MDV latency has been limited to the use of MDV tumor-derived cell lines or blood cells isolated from chickens during presumed periods of latent infection. In 1992 Pratt et al. described the uptake of the MDV genome by a reticuloendotheliosis-transformed T-cell line (RECC-CU91). They reported that MDV established latency in CU91 cells, but that MDV genome expression was very limited. In this report we have examined the uptake of oncogenic, recombinant, and vaccine strain MDVs. We report that the entire MDV genome is taken up by CU91 cells, is hypomethylated, and readily reactivates from this latent state in a manner similar to MDV-transformed cell lines. Notably, virus could not be recovered from cell lines harboring vaccine virus CVI988 or the JM102 strain of MDV. Overall these cell lines present a useful model for the further study of MDV latency, particularly for those viruses having mutations that may affect replication or fitness of the virus in vivo. In addition, these cell lines offer an attractive means to study the latency of vaccine viruses, which establish relatively low levels of latent infection in vivo.

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