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Vet Microbiol. 1995 Jul;45(2-3):219-31.

In vivo variation of Mycoplasma gallisepticum antigen expression in experimentally infected chickens.

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Division of Avian Diseases, Kimron Veterinary Institute, Bet Dagan, Israel.


The antigen expression profiles of Mycoplasma gallisepticum isolates obtained from tracheal swabs of chickens after aerosol-inoculation with M. gallisepticum strain R or clonal variant R/E were examined in western immunoblots. A reference anti-M. gallisepticum chicken antiserum and antisera from individual infected chickens as well as monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) specific for surface proteins were used to monitor in vivo antigenic variation. mAbs 1E5 and 12D8, recognizing PvpA and p67a, recently shown to undergo high-frequency in vitro phase variation, were used for consecutive staining of colony and western immunoblots in order to distinguish between the resultant phenotypes with respect to the corresponding epitopes. Marked differences in the expression of major immunogenic proteins, including p67a, were observed between the two inocula as well as among reisolates recovered at different times of infection. Comparative western immunoblot analysis of the rapidly changing chicken serum antibody response and reisolates recovered during the course of an experimental infection with M. gallisepticum R or clonal variant R/E suggest that immune modulation may have a key role in generating surface diversity. In addition, comparison of colony immunoblots of strain R inoculum and of reisolated colonies from tracheas of birds 8 days post infection indicated an in vivo selection of the PvpA+p67a- phenotype. This study established that surface antigens of M. gallisepticum are subjected in vivo to rapid alteration in their expression. This variability may function as a crucial adaptive mechanism, enabling the organism to escape from the host immune defense and to adapt to the changing host environment at different stages of a natural infection.

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