Infection of animals with retroviruses frequently leads to immunosuppressed states. The immune status of chickens injected with the replication-defective avian erythroblastosis virus (AEV), with its naturally occurring subgroup B helper virus (avian erythroblastosis-associated virus; AEAV), was evaluated daily and compared to the immune status of age-matched uninfected control chickens. Spleen cells from AEV-infected chickens gave depressed responses to concanavalin A, phytohemagglutinin, and pokeweed mitogen beginning 3 days after injection of the virus and continuing until death. Spleen cells from AEV-infected chickens suppressed the T-cell mitogen-induced blastogenic responses of spleen cells from uninfected chickens. The ability of spleen cells from infected chickens to suppress mitogen-induced blastogenic responses of spleen cells from normal chickens in coculture was transient beginning 4 days following viral inoculation, reaching peak levels of suppression on day 7 and disappearing by day 12. Cytolysis of splenic cells from AEV-infected chickens with polyclonal anti-T-cell-serum removed the suppressor activity. Addition of conditioned medium rich in T-cell growth factor resulted in a partial restoration of the blastogenic responsiveness of splenic cells from 6-day post-AEV-infected chickens. Addition of exogenous T-cell growth factor had no effect on the suppressed blastogenic responsiveness of spleen cells from 12-day post-AEV-infected chickens, and it had no effect on coculture suppression. In addition to suppressed T-cell responses to polyclonal mitogen-induced proliferation in vitro and transiently expressed T-suppressor cells, thymic atrophy and structural disruption was observed in AEV-infected chickens.

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This investigation was supported by USPHS Grants CA-12851 (B. G. S.) and CA-45422 (K. K.), awarded by the National Cancer Institute, and Grant 87A69 awarded by the American Institute for Cancer Research (K. K. and B. G. S.).

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