The Transcriptional Landscape of Marek’s Disease Virus in Primary Chicken B Cells Reveals Novel Splice Variants and Genes
Marek’s disease virus (MDV) is an oncogenic alphaherpesvirus that infects chickens and poses a serious threat to poultry health. In infected animals, MDV efficiently replicates in B cells in various lymphoid organs. Despite many years of research, the viral transcriptome in primary target cells of MDV remained unknown. In this study, we uncovered the transcriptional landscape of the very virulent RB1B strain and the attenuated CVI988/Rispens vaccine strain in primary chicken B cells using high-throughput RNA-sequencing. Our data confirmed the expression of known genes, but also identified a novel spliced MDV gene in the unique short region of the genome. Furthermore, de novo transcriptome assembly revealed extensive splicing of viral genes resulting in coding and non-coding RNA transcripts. A novel splicing isoform of MDV UL15 could also be confirmed by mass spectrometry and RT-PCR. In addition, we could demonstrate that the associated transcriptional motifs are highly conserved and closely resembled those of the host transcriptional machinery. Taken together, our data allow a comprehensive re-annotation of the MDV genome with novel genes and splice variants that could be targeted in further research on MDV replication and tumorigenesis.