Patterns of Feline Immunodeficiency Virus Multiple Infection and Genome Divergence in a Free-Ranging Population of African Lions

  • Troyer J
  • Pecon Slattery J
  • Black L
 et al. 
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Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is a lentivirus that causes AIDS-like immunodeficiency disease in domestic cats. Free-ranging lions, Panthera leo, carry a chronic species-specific strain of FIV, FIV-Ple, which so far has not been convincingly connected with immune pathology or mortality. FIV-Ple, harboring the three distinct strains A, B, and C defined by pol gene sequence divergences, is endemic in the large outbred population of lions in the Serengeti ecosystem in Tanzania. Here we describe the pattern of variation in the three FIV genes gag, pol-RT, and pol-RNase among lions within 13 prides to assess the occurrence of FIV infection and coinfection. Genome diversity within and among FIV-Ple strains is shown to be large, with strain divergence for each gene approaching genetic distances observed for FIV between different species of cats. Multiple infections with two or three strains were found in 43% of the FIV-positive individuals based on pol-RT sequence analysis, which may suggest that antiviral immunity or interference evoked by one strain is not consistently protective against infection by a second. This comprehensive study of FIV-Ple in a free-ranging population of lions reveals a dynamic transmission of virus in a social species that has historically adapted to render the virus benign.

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  • J L Troyer

  • J Pecon Slattery

  • L Black

  • S J O'Brien

  • M E Roelke

  • C Packer

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