Lentiviruses have a number of molecular features in common, starting with the ability to integrate their genetic material into the genome of non-dividing infected cells. A peculiar property of non-primate lentiviruses consists in their incapability to infect and induce diseases in humans, thus providing the main rationale for deriving biologically safe lentiviral vectors for gene therapy applications. In this review, we first give an overview of non-primate lentiviruses, highlighting their common and distinctive molecular characteristics together with key concepts in the molecular biology of lentiviruses. We next examine the bioengineering strategies leading to the conversion of lentiviruses into recombinant lentiviral vectors, discussing their potential clinical applications in ophthalmological research. Finally, we highlight the invaluable role of animal organisms, including the emerging zebrafish model, in ocular gene therapy based on non-primate lentiviral vectors and in ophthalmology research and vision science in general.
Keywords: BIV; CAEV; EIAV; FIV; JDV; VMV; gene therapy; lentiviral vector; ophthalmology; zebrafish.