Newcastle disease virus (NDV) is a significant pathogen of poultry; however, variants also affect other species, including pigeons. While NDV is endemic in Bangladesh, and poultry isolates have been recently characterized, information about viruses infecting pigeons is limited. Worldwide, pigeon-derived isolates are commonly of low to moderate virulence for chickens. Here, we studied a pigeon-derived NDV isolated in Bangladesh in 2010. To molecularly characterize the isolate, we sequenced its complete fusion gene and performed a comprehensive phylogenetic analysis. We further studied the biological properties of the virus by estimating mean death time (MDT) and by experimentally infecting 5-week-old naïve Sonali
chickens. The studied virus clustered in sub-genotype XXI.1.2 with NDV from pigeons from Pakistan isolated during 2014–2018. Deduced amino acid sequence analysis showed a polybasic fusion protein cleavage site motif, typical for virulent NDV. The performed in vivo pathogenicity testing showed a MDT of 40.8 h, and along with previously established intracerebral pathogenicity index of 1.51, these indicated a velogenic pathotype for chickens, which is not typical for pigeon-derived viruses. The experimental infection of chickens resulted in marked neurological signs and high mortality starting at 7 days post infection (dpi). Mild congestion in the thymus and necrosis in the spleen were observed at an advanced stage of infection. Microscopically, lymphoid depletion in the thymus, spleen, and bursa of Fabricius were found at 5 dpi, which progressed to severe in the following days. Mild to moderate proliferation of glial cells was noticed in the brain starting at 2 dpi, which gradually progressed with time, leading to focal nodular aggregation. This study reports the velogenic nature for domestic chickens of a pigeon-derived NDV isolate of sub-genotype XXI.1.2. Our findings show that not all pigeon-derived viruses are of low virulence for chickens and highlight the importance of biologically evaluating the pathogenicity of NDV isolated from pigeons.
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