The effect of an in ovo infection with a Dutch isolate of avian leukosis virus subgroup J (ALV-J) on the growth of specific pathogen free (SPF) broiler chickens was analysed. During this study, possible immune suppressive effects of ALV-J were assessed by measuring delayed-type hypersensitivity with keyhole limpet haemocyanin (KLH), natural killer (NK) cell activity, the production of radicals of nitric oxide (NO) by macrophages, humoral immune response against Newcastle and infectious bursal disease vaccine viruses, and automated total and differential leukocyte counts. In an attempt to elucidate the underlying causal mechanisms of the induced growth retardation, 3,3',5-triiodothyronine (T3) concentrations in serum were measured. Four experiments were conducted. In experiment 1, ALV-J-injected birds were compared with ALV subgroup A (ALV-A)-injected and negative control chickens. In experiment 2, ALV-J-injected birds were only compared with negative controls. Finally, in experiments 3a and 3b, ALV-J-injected chickens were compared with negative controls and a group of chickens in which only 10% of birds had been injected with ALV-J. Birds were injected in ovo at day 7 of incubation with 10 4 median tissue culture infectious dose (TCID 50 ) ALV-J or ALV-A, except in experiment 3a where 10 2 TCID 50 ALV-J was injected. Significant growth suppression was found in all 100% of ALV-J-infected groups. The average growth retardation of ALV-J-infected birds compared with negative controls at 6 weeks of age was approximately 8, 11, 2.5 and 6% for the four successive experiments performed. The delayed-type hypersensitivity test against KLH of ALV-J-infected birds showed a tendency towards lower wattle thickness; however, the difference with controls was not significant ( P > 0.05). The same was true for NK cell activity and NO production by macrophages, although the difference was not significant. The total and differential leukocyte counts performed on blood samples from birds at 3, 4 and 6 weeks of age as well as the humoral immune response against Newcastle and infectious bursal disease vaccine viruses did not show significant differences between treatment groups either. Only the number of basophils were significantly higher ( P = 0.02) in ALV-J-infected birds at 3 weeks of age. No significant lower T 3 levels were found in ALV-J-infected birds in weeks 2 and 3 (experiment 2) and weeks 3 and 5 (experiment 3b); however, at 4 weeks (experiment 2) and 6 weeks (experiment 3b) of age, T 3 levels were significantly lower suggesting mild hypothyroidism in these broilers. In conclusion, the present experiments show the occurrence of significant growth retardation in SPF broilers after an ALV-J in ovo infection. The various studies performed to assess the immune competence of ALV-J-infected chickens did not show significant differences in immune responsiveness. The assays on cellular immunity showed a tendency to a lower response in ALV-J-infected birds, but these differences were not statistically significant.