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PLoS One. 2019 Jun 21;14(6):e0218576. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0218576. eCollection 2019.

The effect of maternal immunity on the equine gammaherpesvirus type 2 and 5 viral load and antibody response.

Author information

Institute for Experimental Pathology, Biomedical Center, University of Iceland, Keldur, Reykjavík, Iceland.
Department of Clinical Research and Veterinary Public Health, Vetsuisse Faculty, University of Berne, Berne, Switzerland.
Department of Population Medicine & Diagnostic Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, United States of America.


Two types of gammaherpesviruses (γEHV) are known to infect horses, EHV-2 and EHV-5. Foals become infected early in life, probably via the upper respiratory tract, despite maternal antibodies. In this study, we analyzed samples from a herd of mares and their foals. The foals were followed from birth to 22 months of age and the dams during the first 6 months postpartum. Blood and nasal swab samples were taken regularly for evaluation of antibody responses, virus isolation and viral load by qPCR. EHV-2 was isolated on day 5, and EHV-5 on day 12, earlier than previously reported. γEHV specific antibodies were not detectable in serum of foals before colostrum intake but peaked a few days after colostrum. Overall, EHV-2 viral load peaked in nasal swab at three to four months of age, paralleled with decline in maternal antibodies, but EHV-5 viral load did not peak until month 12. Maternal antibodies had a notable effect on the viral load and induction of endogenous antibody production. Foals were grouped in two groups depending on the mare's γEHV specific total IgG levels in serum at birth, group-high and group-low. Group-high had higher levels of maternal γEHV specific total IgG and IgG4/7 for the first 3 months, but when the endogenous production had superseded maternal antibodies, group-low was higher. The maternal antibodies had an effect on the γEHV viral load. Group-low peaked in EHV-2 viral load one month earlier than group-high. These effects were more evident for EHV-5, as there were seven months between the viral load peaks for the groups. The study provides information on how maternal antibody transfer affects γEHV shedding and antibody production in offspring. It also extends our knowledge on the occurrence of EHV-2 and EHV-5 infection in foals during the first two years of life.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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