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J Virol. Sep 1991; 65(9): 4959–4965.
PMCID: PMC248958

Episodic occurrence of antibodies against the bovine leukemia virus Rex protein during the course of infection in sheep.


Infection by bovine leukemia virus (BLV) is characterized by a long clinical latency after which some individuals develop B-cell tumors. The contributions of the viral regulatory proteins Tax and Rex during clinical latency and disease are incompletely understood. To learn about Rex expression in the host, we used a sensitive immunoprecipitation assay to detect Rex antibodies throughout the course of BLV infection in sheep. Sixty percent of the infected animals produced Rex antibodies in intermittent episodes. This pattern differed markedly from that of antibodies to virion structural proteins, which were maintained in all animals throughout infection. Only one of two animals that developed tumors had detectable Rex antibodies at the time, although the other had previously demonstrated an especially strong Rex antibody response. We examined the Rex response in the context of BLV infection by comparing it with the frequency of circulating mononuclear blood cells that could transcribe BLV RNA or produce infectious virus. Episodes of Rex antibody occurrence followed some but not all increases in the number of BLV-transcribing cells. Since the appearance of circulating antibodies requires that the intracellular Rex protein be available to serve as antigen, the episodic pattern of occurrence of Rex antibodies could result from intermittent killing by virus-specific cytotoxic cells. Fluctuations in titer that were observed during some episodes of Rex response could be due to antibody retention by antigen present in lymphoid tissue.

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