Marek's disease virus (MDV) is an alphaherpesvirus of chickens that causes the paralysis and rapid lymphoma formation known as Marek's disease. MDV establishes latent infection in activated CD4+ T-cells, and these cells are also the target for transformation. MDV latency has been studied using MDV lymphoma-derived cell lines and T-cells isolated from infected chickens. Each of these models has limitations because MDV-transformed cell lines require the use of oncogenic viruses; conversely, pools of latently infected cells are in relatively low abundance and invariably contain cells undergoing reactivation to lytic infection. In this study we have examined the spontaneous and induced expression of the MDV genome, the effect of genome uptake on cellular proliferation and apoptosis resistance, and differences in cellular surface antigen expression associated with MDV genome uptake in a reticuloendotheliosis virus (REV)–transformed T-cell model. We report that the MDV genome is highly transcribed during this latent infection, and that the expression of Marek's EcoRI-Q-encoded protein (Meq) transcripts is similar to that of MDV-transformed cells, but is somewhat lower than MDV-transformed cells at the protein level. Uptake of the MDV genome was associated with an increased growth rate and resistance to serum starvation-induced apoptosis. Treatment of cells with bromodeoxyuridine induced the expression of MDV lytic antigens in a manner similar to MDV-transformed cells. Uptake of the MDV genome, however, was not consistently associated with alteration of T-cell surface antigen expression. Overall, our data show that the REV-transformed cell line model for MDV latency mimics many important aspects of latency also observed in MDV-transformed cells and provides an additional tool for examining MDV latent infection.

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