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Viruses. 2009 Sep;1(2):166-84. doi: 10.3390/v1020166. Epub 2009 Aug 26.

Significance of coronavirus mutants in feces and diseased tissues of cats suffering from feline infectious peritonitis.

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Center for Companion Animal Health, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, One Shields Avenue, Davis, CA, 95616, USA; E-mail: (H.L.).


The internal FECV→FIPV mutation theory and three of its correlates were tested in four sibs/half-sib kittens, a healthy contact cat, and in four unrelated cats that died of FIP at geographically disparate regions. Coronavirus from feces and extraintestinal FIP lesions from the same cat were always >99% related in accessory and structural gene sequences. SNPs and deletions causing a truncation of the 3c gene product were found in almost all isolates from the diseased tissues of the eight cats suffering from FIP, whereas most, but not all fecal isolates from these same cats had intact 3c genes. Other accessory and structural genes appeared normal in both fecal and lesional viruses. Deliterious mutations in the 3c gene were unique to each cat, indicating that they did not originate in one cat and were subsequently passed horizontally to the others. Compartmentalization of the parental and mutant forms was not absolute; virus of lesional type was sometimes found in feces of affected cats and virus identical to fecal type was occasionally identified in diseased tissues. Although 3c gene mutants in this study were not horizontally transmitted, the parental fecal virus was readily transmitted by contact from a cat that died of FIP to its housemate. There was a high rate of mutability in all structural and accessory genes both within and between cats, leading to minor genetic variants. More than one variant could be identified in both diseased tissues and feces of the same cat. Laboratory cats inoculated with a mixture of two closely related variants from the same FIP cat developed disease from one or the other variant, but not both. Significant genetic drift existed between isolates from geographically distinct regions of the Western US.


3c gene; FECV; FIPV; feline infectious peritonitis; internal mutation; viral variants

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