A serotype 1- and serotype 3-specific detection of Marek's disease virus (MDV) by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) was developed. The sensitivity of the method when applied to cell culture grown virus was comparable with that of cultivation. The method was applied to various tissue samples from chickens experimentally inoculated with serotype 1 or serotype 3 MDV. The serotype 1 strains CVI988 and RB-1B could be detected in feather follicle epithelium up to 56 and 84 days post-inoculation (p.i.), respectively, while the MDV-3 serotype was detected until 42 days p.i. The purpose of this study was to develop and evaluate a reliable and easy-to-handle method for surveillance of the occurrence of MDV in chicken flocks. We emphasize the development of a method, which can be applied to types of samples conveniently collected in the field, e.g. feather tips and blood samples. In addition, the PCR was applied to samples collected from four commercial table egg layer flocks of young stock or pullets vaccinated with either serotype 1 (CVI988) or serotype 3 (HVT) vaccine. These flocks had various clinical signs of Marek's disease. MDV-1 was detected in buffy-coat cells, spleen, liver, skin, feather tips and ovaries. The detection of MDV in feather tips appeared to be as sensitive as co-cultivation of buffy-coat cells, although an inhibiting factor was observed in extracts from feather tips of non-white chickens. This inhibition could be overcome in most extracts by applying a bovine serum albumen pretreatment. The PCR proved to be a convenient tool for the monitoring of MDV in the poultry population, and feather tips were the most convenient and sensitive samples.