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J Gen Virol. 2010 Feb;91(Pt 2):415-20. doi: 10.1099/vir.0.016485-0. Epub 2009 Nov 4.

Feline infectious peritonitis: insights into feline coronavirus pathobiogenesis and epidemiology based on genetic analysis of the viral 3c gene.

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Virology Division, Department of Infectious Diseases and Immunology, Veterinary Faculty, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands.


Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) is a lethal systemic disease caused by FIP virus (FIPV), a virulent mutant of apathogenic feline enteric coronavirus (FECV). We analysed the 3c gene--a proposed virulence marker--in 27 FECV- and 28 FIPV-infected cats. Our findings suggest that functional 3c protein expression is crucial for FECV replication in the gut, but dispensable for systemic FIPV replication. Whilst intact in all FECVs, the 3c gene was mutated in the majority (71.4 %) of FIPVs, but not in all, implying that mutation in 3c is not the (single) cause of FIP. Most cats with FIP had no detectable intestinal feline coronaviruses (FCoVs) and had seemingly cleared the primary FECV infection. In those with detectable intestinal FCoV, the virus always had an intact 3c and seemed to have been acquired by FECV superinfection. Apparently, 3c-inactivated viruses replicate not at all--or only poorly--in the gut, explaining the rare incidence of FIP outbreaks.

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