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Open Access Research article

Endogenous expression of ASLV viral proteins in specific pathogen free chicken embryos: relevance for the developmental biology research field

Minda M McNally, Karl J Wahlin and M Valeria Canto-Soler*

  • * Corresponding author: M Valeria Canto-Soler mcantos1@jhmi.edu

  • † Equal contributors

Author Affiliations

Wilmer Eye Institute, Department of Ophthalmology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, 400 N Broadway, Baltimore, MD USA

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BMC Developmental Biology 2010, 10:106  doi:10.1186/1471-213X-10-106

Published: 18 October 2010

Abstract

Background

The use of Specific Pathogen Free (SPF) eggs in combination with RCAS retrovirus, a member of the Avian Sarcoma-Leukosis Virus (ASLV) family, is of standard practice to study gene function and development. SPF eggs are certified free of infection by specific pathogen viruses of either exogenous or endogenous origin, including those belonging to the ASLV family. Based on this, SPF embryos are considered to be free of ASLV viral protein expression, and consequently in developmental research studies RCAS infected cells are routinely identified by immunohistochemistry against the ASLV viral proteins p19 and p27. Contrary to this generally accepted notion, observations in our laboratory suggested that certified SPF chicken embryos may endogenously express ASLV viral proteins p19 and p27. Since these observations may have significant implications for the developmental research field we further investigated this possibility.

Results

We demonstrate that certified SPF chicken embryos have transcriptionally active endogenous ASLV loci (ev loci) capable of expressing ASLV viral proteins, such as p19 and p27, even when those loci are not capable of producing viral particles. We also show that the extent of viral protein expression in embryonic tissues varies not only among flocks but also between embryos of the same flock. In addition, our genetic screening revealed significant heterogeneity in ev loci composition even among embryos of the same flock.

Conclusions

These observations have critical implications for the developmental biology research field, since they strongly suggest that the current standard methodology used in experimental studies using the chick embryo and RCAS vectors may lead to inaccurate interpretation of results. Retrospectively, our observations suggest that studies in which infected cells have been identified simply by pan-ASLV viral protein expression may need to be considered with caution. For future studies, they point to a need for careful selection and screening of the chick SPF lines to be used in combination with RCAS constructs, as well as the methodology utilized for qualitative analysis of experimental results. A series of practical guidelines to ensure research quality animals and accuracy of the interpretation of results is recommended and discussed.