Twenty specific pathogen free cats were experimentally infected with a virulent cat-passaged type I field strain of FIPV. Eighteen cats succumbed within 2-4 weeks to effusive abdominal FIP, one survived for 6 weeks, and one seroconverted without outward signs of disease. A profound drop in the absolute count of blood lymphocytes occurred around 2 weeks post-infection (p.i.) in cats with rapid disease, while the decrease was delayed in the one cat that survived for 6 weeks. The absolute lymphocyte count of the surviving cat remained within normal range. Serum antibodies as measured by indirect immunofluorescence appeared after 2 weeks p.i. and correlated with the onset of disease signs. Viral genomic RNA was either not detectable by reverse transcription quantitative real-time PCR (RT-qPCR) or detectable only at very low levels in terminal tissues not involved directly in the infection, including hepatic and renal parenchyma, cardiac muscle, lung or popliteal lymph node. High tissue virus loads were measured in severely affected tissues such as the omentum, mesenteric lymph nodes and spleen. High levels of viral genomic RNA were also detected in whole ascitic fluid, with the cellular fraction containing 10-1000 times more viral RNA than the supernatant. Replicating virus was strongly associated with macrophages by immunohistochemistry. Virus was usually detected at relatively low levels in feces and there was no evidence of enterocyte infection. Viral genomic RNA was not detected at the level of test sensitivity in whole blood, plasma, or the white cell fraction in terminal samples from the 19 cats that succumbed or in the single survivor. These studies reconfirmed the effect of lymphopenia on disease outcome. FIPV genomic RNA was also found to be highly macrophage associated within diseased tissues and effusions as determined by RT-qPCR and immunohistochemistry but was not present in blood.
Keywords: Experimental; FIP virus; Immunohistochemistry; Macrophages; RT-qPCR; Viremia.
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