Marek’s disease (MD) vaccines are unique in their capability to prevent MD lymphomas as early as a few days after vaccination, despite the fact that they do not eliminate virulent viruses from the host. To help understand the mechanism behind this unique MD vaccine effect, we compared the expression of MDV oncoprotein Meq among CD4+ T cells between vaccinated and unvaccinated birds. Chickens were vaccinated by an MD vaccine, herpesvirus of turkeys, and then challenged by a recombinant virulent MDV that expresses green fluorescent protein simultaneously with Meq. We found significantly fewer Meq-expressing CD4+ T cells appeared in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) of the vaccinated birds compared to the unvaccinated birds as early as one week after the virulent virus challenge. In contrast, the quantity of virulent MDV genome remained similar in Meq- PBMC in both vaccinated and unvaccinated birds. Our results suggest that MD vaccination affects the dynamics of Meq-expressing, possibly transformed, cells while impact on the overall infection in the Meq- cells was not significant.
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