Bovine herpesvirus 1 (BHV-1) is an important pathogen of cattle, and infection is usually initiated in the ocular or nasal cavity. Like other alphaherpesviruses, BHV-1 establishes latency in sensory neurons but has the potential of reactivating from latency and spreading. The only abundant viral transcript expressed during latency is the latency-related (LR) RNA, which is alternatively spliced in trigeminal ganglia during acute infection (L. R. Devireddy and C. Jones, J. Virol. 72:7294–7301, 1998). LR gene products inhibit cell cycle progression (Y. Jiang, A. Hossain, M. T. Winkler, T. Holt, A. Doster, and C. Jones, J. Virol. 72:8133–8142, 1998) and chemically induced apoptosis (J. Ciacci-Zannela, M. Stone, G. Henderson, and C. Jones. J. Virol. 73:9734–9740, 1999). Although these studies suggest that LR gene products play an important role in the latency/pathogenesis of BHV-1, construction of a mutant is necessary to test this hypothesis. Because the bICP0 gene overlaps and is antisense to the LR gene, it was necessary to mutate the LR gene without altering bICP0 expression. This was accomplished by inserting three stop codons near the beginning of the LR RNA, thus interfering with expression of proteins expressed by the LR RNA. The LR mutant virus grew with wild-type (WT) efficiency in bovine kidney (MDBK) cells and expressed bICP0 at least as efficiently as WT BHV-1 or the LR rescued virus. When calves were infected with the LR mutant, we observed a dramatic decrease (3 to 4 log units) in ocular shedding during acute infection relative to WT or the LR rescued virus. In contrast, shedding of the LR mutant from the nasal cavity was not significantly different from that of the WT or the LR rescued virus. Calves infected with the LR mutant exhibited mild clinical symptoms, but they seroconverted. Neutralizing antibody titers were lower in calves infected with the LR mutant, confirming reduced growth. In summary, this study suggests that an LR protein promotes ocular shedding during acute infection of calves
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