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Vet Immunol Immunopathol. 2008 May 15;123(1-2):124-8. doi: 10.1016/j.vetimm.2008.01.018. Epub 2008 Jan 19.

Real-time PCR investigation of feline leukemia virus proviral and viral RNA loads in leukocyte subsets.

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Clinical Laboratory, Vetsuisse Faculty, University of Zurich, Winterthurerstreet 260, CH-8057 Zurich, Switzerland.


Cats exposed to feline leukemia virus (FeLV), a naturally occurring gammaretrovirus develop either progressive or regressive infection. Recent studies using analyses with enhanced sensitivity have correlated loads throughout FeLV with the clinical outcome, though remarkably, during the acute phase of infection, proviral and viral RNA burdens in the peripheral blood do not differ between groups. We hypothesized that viral loads in specific leukocyte subsets influence the infection outcome. Using a method established to determine the proviral and cell-associated viral RNA loads in specific leukocyte subsets, we evaluated viral loads in eleven FeLV-exposed specific pathogen-free (SPF) cats 2.5 years post-infection. Six cats had undergone regressive infection whereas five were persistently viremic. Aviremic cats had lower total proviral blood loads than the persistently infected cats and FeLV proviral DNA was shown to be integrated into genomic DNA in four out of four animals. Lymphocytes were predominantly infected vs. moncytes and granulocytes in aviremic cats. In contrast, persistently viremic cats were provirus-positive in all leukocyte subsets. The acute phase kinetics of FeLV infection were analyzed in two additional cats; an early lymphoreticular phase with productive infection in lymphocytes in both cats and in monocytes in one cat was followed by infection of the granulocytes; both cats became persistently infected. These results indicate that FeLV persistent viremia is associated with secondary viremia of bone marrow origin, whereas regressive cats only sustain a non-productive infection in low numbers of lymphocytes.

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