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J Virol. 2005 Nov;79(22):14122-30.

Acquisition of macrophage tropism during the pathogenesis of feline infectious peritonitis is determined by mutations in the feline coronavirus spike protein.

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Virology Division, Department of Infectious Diseases and Immunology, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Utrecht University, Yalelaan 1, 3584 CL Utrecht, The Netherlands.


In feline coronavirus (FCoV) pathogenesis, the ability to infect macrophages is an essential virulence factor. Whereas the low-virulence feline enteric coronavirus (FECV) isolates primarily replicate in the epithelial cells of the enteric tract, highly virulent feline infectious peritonitis virus (FIPV) isolates have acquired the ability to replicate efficiently in macrophages, which allows rapid dissemination of the virulent virus throughout the body. FIPV 79-1146 and FECV 79-1683 are two genetically closely related representatives of the two pathotypes. Whereas FECV 79-1683 causes at the most a mild enteritis in young kittens, FIPV 79-1146 almost invariably induces a lethal peritonitis. The virulence phenotypes correlate with the abilities of these viruses to infect and replicate in macrophages, a feature of FIPV 79-1146 but not of FECV 79-1683. To identify the genetic determinants of the FIPV 79-1146 macrophage tropism, we exchanged regions of its genome with the corresponding parts of FECV 79-1683, after which the ability of the FIPV/FECV hybrid viruses to infect macrophages was tested. Thus, we established that the FIPV spike protein is the determinant for efficient macrophage infection. Interestingly, this property mapped to the C-terminal domain of the protein, implying that the difference in infection efficiency between the two viruses is not determined at the level of receptor usage, which we confirmed by showing that infection by both viruses was equally blocked by antibodies directed against the feline aminopeptidase N receptor. The implications of these findings are discussed.

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