Infection of bovines with bovine leukaemia virus (BLV) manifests itself in either of two ways: 30-70% of carriers develop persistent lymphocytosis (PL), with the viral genome integrated at a large number of different sites in the DNA of the affected B-lymphocytes, without causing any chromosomal abnormalities. Only 0,1-10 % of carriers develop lymphoid tumours, which also consist of B-lymphocytes. In contrast to PL, however, they are of mono- or oligoclonal origin in terms of the integration site, which is characteristic for each tumour. All cells contain one or more copies of the viral genome, chromosomal aberrations are common and if deletions are present they are invariably found in the 5' -half of the virus DNA sequence. In both types of affected cells transcription is repressed in vivo, but transient virus production can be induced in vitro and detected by means of syncytia induction or haemagglutination. In vivo production of virus in some unknown cell is suggested by the presence of high antibody titres in infected animals, especially against the envelope glycoprotein gp51 . This can be detected by various techniques such as immunodiffusion, radioimmune assay or ELISA. Monoclonal antibodies against gp51 have revealed 8 epitopes, 3 of which are recognized by neutralizing antibodies and one by a cytolytic antibody.
The BLV genome, about 9 kb in size, have been cloned, and some of the information obtained on its molecular structure and function is discussed. It codes for at least 4 non-glycosylated and 2 glycoproteins. Of special interest is the recently discovered serological relationship between some of the non-glycosylated proteins and those of the human T-cell leukaemia virus.
The functional role of BLV in leukaemogenesis is largely unknown. The presence of the viral genome seems to be necessary for the maintenance of the transformed state, but not its continuous expression nor an LTR- mediated promotion of transcription of cellular genes. No oncogene is carried by the virus.
Although bovine leukosis is not of major economic importance, its eradication is desirable and feasible in countries with a relatively low incidence, by means of testing and elimination. For endemic situations vaccination would be preferable, and distinct possibilities exist for the development of gp51 based vaccines
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