With the exception of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which emerged in humans after cross-species transmissions of simian immunodeficiency viruses from nonhuman primates, immunodeficiency viruses of the family Lentiviridae represent species-specific viruses that rarely cross species barriers to infect new hosts. Among the Felidae, numerous immunodeficiency-like lentiviruses have been documented, but only a few cross-species transmissions have been recorded, and these have not been perpetuated in the recipient species. Lentivirus seroprevalence was determined for 79 bobcats (Lynx rufus) and 31 pumas (Puma concolor) from well-defined populations in Southern California. Partial genomic sequences were subsequently obtained from 18 and 12 seropositive bobcats and pumas, respectively. Genotypes were analyzed for phylogenic relatedness and genotypic composition among the study set and archived feline lentivirus sequences. This investigation of feline immunodeficiency virus infection in bobcats and pumas of Southern California provides evidence that cross-species infection has occurred frequently among these animals. The data suggest that transmission has occurred in multiple locations and are most consistent with the spread of the virus from bobcats to pumas. Although the ultimate causes remain unknown, these transmission events may occur as a result of puma predation on bobcats, a situation similar to that which fostered transmission of HIV to humans, and likely represent the emergence of a lentivirus with relaxed barriers to cross-species transmission. This unusual observation provides a valuable opportunity to evaluate the ecological, behavioral, and molecular conditions that favor repeated transmissions and persistence of lentivirus between species.
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