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J Virol. 1994 April; 68(4): 2230–2238.
PMCID: PMC236699

Identification of three feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) env gene subtypes and comparison of the FIV and human immunodeficiency virus type 1 evolutionary patterns.


Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is a lentivirus associated with AIDS-like illnesses in cats. As such, FIV appears to be a feline analog of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). A hallmark of HIV infection is the large degree of viral genetic diversity that can develop within an infected individual and the even greater and continually increasing level of diversity among virus isolates from different individuals. Our goal in this study was to determine patterns of FIV genetic diversity by focusing on a 684-nucleotide region encompassing variable regions V3, V4, and V5 of the FIV env gene in order to establish parallels and distinctions between FIV and HIV type 1 (HIV-1). Our data demonstrate that, like HIV-1, FIV can be separated into distinct envelope sequence subtypes (three are described here). Similar to that found for HIV-1, the pairwise sequence divergence within an FIV subtype ranged from 2.5 to 15.0%, whereas that between subtypes ranged from 17.8 to 26.2%. However, the high number of synonymous nucleotide changes among FIV V3 to V5 env sequences may also include a significant number of back mutations and suggests that the evolutionary distances among FIV subtypes are underestimated. Although only a few subtype B viruses were available for examination, the pattern of diversity between the FIV A and B subtypes was found to be significantly distinct; subtype B sequences had proportionally fewer mutations that changed amino acids, compared with silent changes, suggesting a more advanced state of adaptation to the host. No similar distinction was evident for HIV-1 subtypes. The diversity of FIV genomes within individual infected cats was found to be as high as 3.7% yet twofold lower than that within HIV-1-infected people over a comparable region of the env gene. Despite these differences, significant parallels between patterns of FIV evolution and HIV-1 evolution exist, indicating that a wide array of potentially divergent virus challenges need to be considered in FIV vaccine and pathogenesis studies.

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