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Am Heart J. 1999 Nov;138(5 Pt 2):S465-8.

Atherosclerosis induced by infection with Marek's disease herpesvirus in chickens.

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Department of Microbiology, Cornell University, College of Veterinary Medicine, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA.



This research was suggested after crystals that we observed in herpesvirus-infected cell cultures were identified as cholesterol. Other reports and the development of defined reagents led us to select the use of Marek's disease herpesvirus (MDV) infection of chickens to demonstrate a potential role of herpesviruses in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis. Available for our use were a clone-purified strain of MDV of known virulence, genetically selected, specific pathogen-free chickens, and appropriate isolation facilities to design controlled experiments to fulfill Koch's postulates.


Experiments were performed to test the roles of both MDV and dietary cholesterol in atherosclerosis. The birds were examined 7 months after MDV infection with and without cholesterol feeding for gross and microscopic arterial lesions. Atherosclerotic lesions were found only in infected normocholesterolemic or hypercholesterolemic birds. The character and distribution of these lesions closely resembled those found in the chronic human arterial disease. Atherosclerotic lesions were not found in uninfected birds even if the birds were hypercholesterolemic.


Evidence was obtained from other experiments that after MDV infection, cholesterol and cholesteryl esters accumulated in cell cultures and in atherosclerotic lesions. These changes were associated with altered enzymatic activity of the cholesterol synthesis cycle. Immunization with turkey herpesvirus vaccine or SB-1 vaccine prevented atherosclerotic lesions.

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