Recombinant (r) transmembrane protein (TM), major capsid protein P25, and matrix protein P16 of ovine lentivirus (OLV) were used as solid phase antigens in enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISAs) for the detection of specific antibodies against OLV in sheep sera. Sensitivity, specificity, and agreement of these three recombinant assays were compared with each other and with two currently available conventional OLV serological assays, the agar gel immunodiffusion (AGID) test and a whole-virus (WV) ELISA. Field sera from a total of 412 Midwestern United States sheep were tested and compared by the five OLV detection methods, including visibly healthy sheep selected for public sale (Group A, n = 171), samples from a breeding flock of Finnsheep and Finn-cross ewes (Group B, n = 184) and moribund sheep with clinical signs associated with OLV (Group C, n = 57). The rTM ELISA was the most sensitive OLV detection assay, both overall and within each group. Sera from 48.1% ( 198 412) of field samples were rTM ELISA positive. By contrast, positive rates for the rP25, rP16, and WV ELISAs and AGID test were 34.2%, 32.3%, 36.9%, and 26.9%, respectively. The rTM ELISA reactivity was 36.8% for Group A sera, 50.0% for Group B sera, and 75.4% for Group C sera. Among the 21 Group C sheep possessing OLV lung lesions at necropsy, 20 (95.2%) were rTM ELISA positive. The greatest test agreement occurred between the rP25 and the rP16 ELISAs. The data suggest that the recombinant TM immunoassay is the most accurate and sensitive of the five methods evaluated for the detection of serum anti-OLV antibodies in sheep, both at the subclinical infection and overt clinical disease stages.
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