Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) infection results in viral persistence, a prolonged asymptomatic phase, and progressive immunopathology. During the asymptomatic phase, a cohort of experimentally FIV-infected cats exhibits features of viral latency in blood suggestive of inactive viral replication. We sought to investigate viral replication activity and genomic stability of the FIV proviral long terminal repeat (LTR) and the 5' aspect of gag over time. FIV-infected cats during the asymptomatic phase demonstrated undetectable plasma FIV gag RNA transcripts and intermittent to undetectable blood-derived cell-associated FIV gag RNA. The LTR sequence demonstrated instability in blood-derived cells over time, in spite of low to undetectable viral replication. Sequence variation in the LTR was identified in CD4+ and CD21+ leukocytes from blood and surgically removed lymph nodes. Three single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the LTR were commonly identified. Promoter functionality of a common LTR SNP and rare U3 mutation were examined by reporter gene assays and demonstrated either no change or increased basal FIV promoter function, respectively. In conclusion, this cohort of asymptomatic FIV-infected cats demonstrated instability of the LTR and 5' gag sequences during the study period, in spite of undetectable plasma and rare to undetectable viral gag RNA, which suggests that blood may not accurately represent viral activity in asymptomatic FIV-infected cats.
- Lymph node
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