Pathological manifestations of feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) infection in wild African lions

Melody E. Roelke, Meredith A. Brown, Jennifer L. Troyer, Hanlie Winterbach, Christiaan Winterbach, Graham Hemson, Dahlem Smith, Randall C. Johnson, Jill Pecon-Slattery, Alfred L. Roca, Kathleen A. Alexander, Lin Klein, Paolo Martelli, Karthiyani Krishnasamy, Stephen J. O'Brien

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) causes AIDS in the domestic cat (Felis catus) but has not been explicitly associated with AIDS pathology in any of the eight free-ranging species of Felidae that are endemic with circulating FIV strains. African lion (Panthera leo) populations are infected with lion-specific FIV strains (FIVple), yet there remains uncertainty about the degree to which FIV infection impacts their health. Reported CD4+ T-lymphocyte depletion in FIVple-infected lions and anecdotal reports of lion morbidity associated with FIV seroprevalence emphasize the concern as to whether FIVple is innocuous or pathogenic. Here we monitored clinical, biochemical, histological and serological parameters among FIVple-positive (N = 47) as compared to FIVple-negative (N = 17) lions anesthetized and sampled on multiple occasions between 1999 and 2006 in Botswana. Relative to uninfected lions, FIVple-infected lions displayed a significant elevation in the prevalence of AIDS-defining conditions: lymphadenopathy, gingivitis, tongue papillomas, dehydration, and poor coat condition, as well as displaying abnormal red blood cell parameters, depressed serum albumin, and elevated liver enzymes and gamma globulin. Spleen and lymph node biopsies from free-ranging FIVple-infected lions (N = 9) revealed evidence of lymphoid depletion, the hallmark pathology documented in immunodeficiency virus infections of humans (HIV-1), macaques, and domestic cats. We conclude that over time FIVple infections in free-ranging lions can lead to adverse clinical, immunological, and pathological outcomes in some individuals that parallel sequelae caused by lentivirus infection in humans (HIV), Asian macaques (SIV) and domestic cats (FIVfca).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 20 2009


  • FIV
  • Free-ranging
  • Immune depletion
  • Lentivirus
  • Lions
  • Pathology
  • Wild

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Virology


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