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Investigations for detection and differentiation of nine avian poxviruses (APVs) were carried out by the use of a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) combined with restriction enzyme analysis (REA) and further nucleotide sequence analysis. With one primer set, which framed a region within the fowl poxvirus 4b core protein gene, we were able to detect APV-specific DNA from 19 tested strains and isolates belonging to five defined Avipoxvirus species and four previously undefined isolated species. PCR results revealed no recognizable differences in size of amplified fragments among the different APVs. REA of PCR products with MseI and EcoRV allowed us to differentiate most of the tested avipox species. Nucleotide sequence analysis of the amplified fragments showed a nucleotide similarity of 72%-100% among the different species. Phylogenetic analysis documented five distinguishable sequence clusters in accordance with results obtained by REA. PCR in combination with REA and sequencing of the amplified fragments is a rapid and effective diagnostic system, and it is a new approach to refine epidemiologic studies of APV infections.