Disease-specific and tissue-specific production of unintegrated feline leukaemia virus variant DNA in feline AIDS

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Feline leukaemia viruses (FeLVs) have long been known to be associated with induction of proliferative and anti-proliferative diseases of domestic cats1. Strains of FeLV have been recognized which specifically induce lymphosarcoma2,3, aplastic anaemia4–6, myelodysplastic anaemia6, and, recently, feline AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), a naturally occurring immunosup-pressive syndrome7 strikingly similar to human AIDS which is lethal in 100% of inoculated and viraemic specific-pathogen-free (SPF) cats8. Here, we have analysed FeLV DNA in tissues of 22 SPF cats that had been inoculated with the feline AIDS strain (FeLV-FAIDS) and we find two classes of viral DNA—a monotypic common form which is detectable in bone marrow regardless of disease state, and variant forms, recognizable by restriction site differences, whose appearance correlates with onset of disease symptoms and persists throughout the course of the disease. FeLV-FAIDS variant DNA is detected at high concentration (10–50 copies per cell) and principally as unintegrated viral DNA (UVD) in bone marrow of cats with feline AIDS. In marked contrast, high levels of UVD were not present in cats in the terminal-stages of T-cell lymphosarcoma, aplastic anaemia, or myelodysplastic anaemia induced by other FeLV strains. These results parallel recent observations in humans, where high levels of UVD were sometimes found in cells derived from AIDS patients infected with human T-lymphotropic virus type III (HTLV-III)/lymph-adenopathy-associated virus (LAV), and suggest that persistence of unintegrated variant viral DNA is a crucial indicator of retro-virus-induced cytopathic disease syndromes such as AIDS.

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