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Antigenic and Molecular Characterization of Virulent Newcastle Disease Viruses Circulating in Ethiopia Between 1976 and 2008


Newcastle disease virus (NDV) cultures held in the isolate collections in Ethiopia between 1976 and 2008 were not characterized using biological and molecular techniques. The already characterized NDV isolates belonged to genotype VI but the genetic nature of previously collected isolates, which could shade light on the history of introduction into the country and their evolutionary relationships, were not established.


A total of 14 NDVs (11 obtained from outbreak cases in chickens and three commercial vaccinal strains used in the country) were inoculated into specific pathogen free (SPF) embryonated chicken eggs (ECE). Allantoic fluids harvested from grown SPF ECE were tested by heamagglutination (HA) and heamagglutination inhibition (HI) tests. Partial F gene sequences were generated for all samples and molecular evolutionary relationships were reconstructed together with reference sequences freely available online. The pathogenicities of the isolates were assessed in vivo by determining their intracerebral pathogenicity index (ICPI) in day-old chicks and molecularly by determination of F gene cleavage sites.


Of these, 12 viruses (two vaccines and 10 outbreaks) were successfully propagated as evidenced by a positive heamagglutination (HA) test. These 12 propagated viruses were further characterized by heamagglutination inhibition (HI) test, of which only three viruses reacted with monoclonal antibody (MAb 617/616) specific for pigeon paramyxovirus-1. In addition, all 14 viruses were characterized by partial fusion (F) gene sequencing and phylogenetic tree reconstruction. The Ethiopian NDV isolates clustered with genotype VI viruses, forming two clades (groups 1 and 2) that have ancestral relationships with Egypt-1990 and Sudan-1975 like viruses.


The characterized genotype VI NDVs were genetically similar to currently circulating NDVs in Ethiopia. The isolates had cleavage sites consistent with mesogenic/velogenic NDV with a mean ICPI value of 1.76, indicating that the isolates were velogenic. Two and four highly virulent viruses were thermostable at 56°C for 2 hours and 1 hour, respectively. To reduce chicken mortality and production losses, proper control of the disease should be instituted using high quality and protective vaccines together with strong biosecurity measures.


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