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The lentivirus feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is a widespread pathogen of the domestic cat that is mainly transmitted through bites, although other means of transmission are also possible. Its prevalence ranges from 1 to 10% in different cat populations throughout the world, thus representing a large reservoir of naturally infected animals. FIV resembles the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in many respects. Similarities include the structural features of the virion, the general organization and great variability of the genome, the life cycle in the infected host, and most importantly, the pathogenic potential. Infection is associated with laboratory signs of immunosuppression as well as with a large variety of superinfections, tumors, and neurological manifestations. Our understanding of FIV is steadily improving and is providing important clues to the pathogenesis of immunodeficiency-inducing lentiviruses. The cellular receptor for FIV is different from the feline equivalent of the human CD4 molecule used by HIV; nevertheless, the major hallmark of infection is a progressive loss of CD4+ T lymphocytes as in HIV infection. The mechanisms by which FIV escapes the host's immune responses are being actively investigated. FIV causes lysis of infected T cells and also appears to predispose these cells to apoptosis. Infection of macrophages and other cell types has also been documented. For reasons yet to be understood, antibody-mediated neutralization of fresh FIV isolates is very inefficient both in vitro and in vivo. Vaccination studies have provided some encouraging results, but the difficulties encountered appear to match those met in HIV vaccine development. FIV susceptibility to antiviral agents is similar to that of HIV, thus providing a valuable system for in vivo preclinical evaluation of therapies. It is concluded that in many respects FIV is an ideal model for AIDS studies.