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Virology. 1995 Oct 1;212(2):622-31.

The molecular genetics of feline coronaviruses: comparative sequence analysis of the ORF7a/7b transcription unit of different biotypes.

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


Feline coronaviruses (FCoVs) have been subdivided into feline enteric coronaviruses (FECVs) and feline infectious peritonitis viruses (FIPVs) on the basis of pathogenic properties. Serologically, a distinction has been made between type I and II FCoVs, the latter of which more closely resemble canine coronavirus (CCV). To gain more insight into the genetic relationships between different FCoV biotypes, we determined the nucleotide sequences of the ORF7a/7b transcription unit of nine strains. The following observations were made: (i) The sequences are 87-100% identical. In this part of the genome, type I and II FCoVs are more closely related to each other than to CCV. To explain the genetic and antigenic differences between the spike genes of type I and II FCoVs, we postulate that type II FcoVs have arisen by an RNA recombination event between a type I FCoV and CCV. (ii) The avirulent "FECV" strains UCD and 79-1683 are more similar to virulent "FIPV" strains than to each other. Our findings thus support the notion that FECV and FIPV are not different species but merely virulence variants. (iii) In contrast to FECV 79-1683, FECV UCD contains an intact ORF7b, indicating that ORF7b deletions are not a universal distinguishing property of FECVs. (iv) ORF7b deletions readily occur in vitro, correlating with loss of virulence. By reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction analysis, we show that in naturally occurring FCoVs ORF7b is maintained. Thus, ORF7b seems to provide a distinct selective advantage during natural infection.

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