Manufacturers of Mycoplasma gallisepticum (MG) modified live vaccines usually recommend a single application at 8 wk of age. This makes 12–16-wk-old layer pullets suitable for challenge studies intended to evaluate these vaccines. Numerous challenge models in different poultry species and ages have been reported. However, there is not an established layer pullet challenge model for this age. The aim of this study is to develop a suitable challenge model in 12-wk-old layer pullets. MG Rlow strain was used as the challenge strain, and its ability to induce clinical signs and lesions in 12-wk-old Hy-Line W-36 layer pullets was evaluated. Three different doses (low, 7.95 × 104 color-changing units [CCU]/bird; medium, 7.95 × 106 CCU/bird; and high, 7.95 × 108 CCU/bird) via three different routes (eye drop, fine spray, and contact infection) were compared and evaluated using different parameters. At 14 days post-challenge, there were no mortalities in any of the groups throughout the study. Layer pullets directly challenged with the high dose via the fine spray route showed the clearest and most consistent results (clinical signs, positive quantitative real-time PCR [qPCR], seroconversion, air sac scoring, and histopathological changes of the tracheal mucosa). Medium and low challenge doses applied via fine spray or eye drop did not show consistent results. Rlow strain was able to spread to the contact infection birds, as confirmed by the positive qPCR results; however, none of the contact-infected birds showed any clinical signs or gross or microscopic lesions. Our results suggest that a high dose (7.95 × 108 CCU/bird) administered through a fine spray route is the model of choice in any future MG vaccine evaluation trials in 12-wk-old layer pullets.

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