Newcastle disease virus (NDV) is an avian paramyxovirus that causes significant economic losses to the poultry industry worldwide. There is limited knowledge about the avian immune response to infection with virulent NDVs, and how this response may contribute to disease. In this study, pathogenesis and the transcriptional host response of chickens to a virulent NDV strain that rapidly causes 100% mortality was characterized. Using microarrays, a strong transcriptional host response was observed in spleens at early times after infection with the induction of groups of genes involved in innate antiviral and pro-inflammatory responses. There were multiple genes induced at 48 h post-infection including: type I and II interferons (IFNs), several cytokines and chemokines, IFN effectors and inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS). The increased transcription of nitric oxide synthase was confirmed by immunohistochemistry for iNOS in spleens and measured levels of nitric oxide in serum. In vitro experiments showed strong induction of the key host response genes, alpha IFN, beta interferon, and interleukin 1b and interleukin 6, in splenic leukocytes at 6 h post-infection in comparison to a non-virulent NDV. The robust host response to virulent NDV, in conjunction with severe pathological damage observed, is somewhat surprising considering that all NDV encode a gene, V, which functions as a suppressor of class I IFNs. Taken together, these results suggest that the host response itself may contribute to the pathogenesis of this highly virulent strain in chickens.