BACKGROUND: Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) is considered highly fatal in its naturally occurring form, although up to 36% of cats resist disease after experimental infection, suggesting that cats in nature may also resist development of FIP in the face of infection with FIP virus (FIPV). Previous experimental FIPV infection studies suggested a role for cell-mediated immunity in resistance to development of FIP. This experimental FIPV infection study in specific pathogen free (SPF) kittens describes longitudinal antiviral T cell responses and clinical outcomes ranging from rapid progression, slow progression, and resistance to disease. RESULTS: Differences in disease outcome provided an opportunity to investigate the role of T cell immunity to FIP determined by T cell subset proliferation after stimulation with different viral antigens. Reduced total white blood cell (WBC), lymphocyte and T cell counts in blood were observed during primary acute infection for all experimental groups including cats that survived without clinical FIP. Antiviral T cell responses during early primary infection were also similar between cats that developed FIP and cats remaining healthy. Recovery of antiviral T cell responses during the later phase of acute infection was observed in a subset of cats that survived longer or resisted disease compared to cats showing rapid disease progression. More robust T cell responses at terminal time points were observed in lymph nodes compared to blood in cats that developed FIP. Cats that survived primary infection were challenged a second time to pathogenic FIPV and tested for antiviral T cell responses over a four week period. Nine of ten rechallenged cats did not develop FIP or T cell depletion and all cats demonstrated antiviral T cell responses at multiple time points after rechallenge. CONCLUSIONS: In summary, definitive adaptive T cell responses predictive of disease outcome were not detected during the early phase of primary FIPV infection. However emergence of antiviral T cell responses after a second exposure to FIPV, implicated cellular immunity in the control of FIPV infection and disease progression. Virus host interactions during very early stages of FIPV infection warrant further investigation to elucidate host resistance to FIP.
- Antiviral T cell responses
- Feline infectious peritonitis
- Feline infectious peritonitis virus
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