Objective: To determine whether expression of feline coronavirus (FCoV) 7b protein, as indicated by the presence of specific serum antibodies, consistently correlated with occurrence of feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) in cats.
Sample population: 95 serum samples submitted for various diagnostic assays and 20 samples from specific-pathogen-free cats tested as negative control samples.
Procedures: The 7b gene from a virulent strain of FCoV was cloned into a protein expression vector. The resultant recombinant protein was produced and used in antibody detection assays via western blot analysis of serum samples. Results were compared with those of an immunofluorescence assay (IFA) for FCoV-specific antibody and correlated with health status.
Results: Healthy IFA-seronegative cats were seronegative for antibodies against the 7b protein. Some healthy cats with detectable FCoV-specific antibodies as determined via IFA were seronegative for antibodies against the 7b protein. Serum from cats with FIP had antibodies against the 7b protein, including cats with negative results via conventional IFA. However, some healthy cats, as well as cats with conditions other than FIP that were seropositive to FCoV via IFA, were also seropositive for the 7b protein.
Conclusions and clinical relevance: Expression of the 7b protein, as indicated by detection of antibodies against the protein, was found in most FCoV-infected cats. Seropositivity for this protein was not specific for the FCoV virulent biotype or a diagnosis of FIP.