Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV) continues to be a major problem in the pork industry worldwide. The limitations of current PRRSV vaccines require the development of a new generation of vaccnes. One of the key steps in future vaccine development is to include markers for diagnostic differentiation of vaccinated animals from those naturally infected with wild-type virus. Using a cDNA infectious clone of type 1 PRRSV, this study constructed a recombinant green fluorescent protein (GFP)-tagged PRRSV containing a deletion of an immunogenic epitope, ES4, in the nsp2 region. In a nursery pig disease model, the recombinant virus was attenuated with a lower level of viraernia in comparison with that of the parental virus. To complement the marker identification, GFP and ES4 epitope-based ELISAs were developed. Pigs immunized with the recombinant virus lacked antibodies directed against the corresponding deleted epitope, but generated a high-level antibody response to GFP by 14 days post-infection. These results demonstrated that this recombinant marker virus, in conjunction with the diagnostic tests, enables serological differentiation between marker virus-infected animals and those infected with the wild-type virus. This rationally designed marker virus will provide a basis for further development of PRRSV marker vaccines to assist with the control of PRRS.
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