Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Vaccination delays maedi-visna lentivirus infection in a naturally-infected sheep flock

Margrét Gudnadóttir1*, Andreas Demosthenous2 and Theophanis Hadjisavvas3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Microbiology, University of Iceland, Ármúli 1A, Reykjavík, 108, Iceland

2 National Veterinary Services, Limassol, Cyprus

3 Veterinary Laboratories, National Veterinary Services, Nicosia, Cyprus

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BMC Veterinary Research 2013, 9:16  doi:10.1186/1746-6148-9-16

Published: 22 January 2013



The Maedi-Visna (MV) lentivirus causes two slowly progressive eventually fatal diseases of sheep, Maedi, a progressive interstitial pneumonia, and Visna, a progressive demyelinating disease of the central nervous system. Other lentiviruses also cause fatal slow infections in their natural hosts, e.g. the HIV virus in humans. Results of experimental vaccination against any lentivirus where vaccinees are challenged by natural routes, may therefore be of general interest. From 1991–1998 experiments with formalin-inactivated whole Maedi-Visna virus vaccine were carried out in the Department of Microbiology at the University of Iceland. Western Blot tests showed good immune response to all major proteins of the virus. When aluminium hydroxide was added to the vaccine all vaccinees developed neutralizing antibodies to the vaccine strain at titers 1/8 – 1/256. After housing 5 twin pairs, one twin in each pair vaccinated, the other unvaccinated, with infected sheep for 4 years, all the unvaccinated twins became infected, but only 2 of their vaccinated siblings as confirmed by virus cultivation experiments on tissues from their lungs spleens lymph nodes and choroid plexuses.


One twin in each of 40 female twin pairs, born into a Maedi-Visna-infected sheep flock and kept under natural farming conditions in Cyprus, was vaccinated at birth, 3 weeks and 3 months, with formalin-inactivated whole Maedi-Visna lentivirus vaccine adjuvanted with aluminium hydroxide. 17 mothers of the twins were seronegative, 13 seroconverting and 10 had old infection. Of 17 vaccinees born to seronegative mothers 9 were uninfected at 28 months, but only 2 of their unvaccinated siblings. Of 13 unvaccinated twins born to seroconverting mothers, 12 caught infection during their first 10 weeks, but only 4 of their vaccinated siblings. Vaccination had no effects on 10 vaccinees born to mothers with long-standing Maedi-Visna infections and broad andibody response at birth of their lambs.


Compared with their unvaccinated siblings, natural infection was delayed in significant number of vaccinated twins born by seronegative and seroconverting mothers and vaccinated at birth, 3 weeks and 3 months with formalin inactivated whole MV vaccine adjuvanted with aluminium hydroxide. Maternal antibodies interfered with vaccination so early in life if the mother had old infection.

Lentivirus; Maedi-Visna; Vaccine-trial; Challenge by natural infection