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Vet Immunol Immunopathol. 2008 May 15;123(1-2):119-23. doi: 10.1016/j.vetimm.2008.01.017. Epub 2008 Jan 19.

How molecular methods change our views of FeLV infection and vaccination.

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  • 1Clinical Laboratory, Vetsuisse Faculty, University of Zurich, Winterthurerstr. 260, CH-8057 Zurich, Switzerland.


FeLV was discovered 40 years ago and vaccines have been commercially available for almost two decades. So far, most FeLV pathogenesis and vaccine studies were conducted assaying parameters, such as virus isolation and antigen detection. Accordingly, regressive infection was characterized by transient or undetectable viremia, while persistent viremia is typically observed in cats with progressive infection. Using real-time polymerase chain reaction assays, the spectrum of host response categories to FeLV infection was recently refined by investigating proviral and plasma viral RNA loads. Cats believed to be immune to FeLV infection were found to turn provirus-positive after virus exposure. Moreover, efficacious FeLV vaccines were found unable to prevent provirus-integration and minimal viral replication. Remarkably, no difference was found in initial proviral and plasma viral RNA loads between cats with different infection outcomes. Only subsequently, the infection outcome is associated with FeLV loads. FeLV provirus was found to persist for years; reoccurrence of viremia and disease development was observed in some cats. Thus, aviremic provirus-positive cats are FeLV carriers and, following reactivation, may act as an infection source. However, integrated viral DNA may also be essential for solid protection and long-lasting maintenance of protective immunity. In conclusion, real-time TaqMan PCR and RT-PCR assays are highly sensitive and specific. They yield a more sensitive measure for FeLV exposure than antigen detection, virus isolation or immunofluoresence assays. We recommend the use of real-time PCR assays to identify FeLV exposed cats, particularly in catteries, and investigate obscure clinical cases that may be FeLV-associated. The use of sensitive molecular methods will contribute to a more in-depth understanding of the FeLV pathogenesis.

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