Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is a lentivirus that has been identified in many members of the family Felidae but domestic cats are the only FIV host in which infection results in disease. We studied FIVpco infection of cougars (Puma concolor) as a model for asymptomatic lentivirus infections to understand the mechanisms of host-virus coexistence. Several natural cougar populations were evaluated to determine if there are any consequences of FIVpco infection on cougar fecundity, survival, or susceptibility to other infections. We have sequenced full-length viral genomes and conducted a detailed analysis of viral molecular evolution on these sequences and on genome fragments of serially sampled animals to determine the evolutionary forces experienced by this virus in cougars. In addition, we have evaluated the molecular genetics of FIVpco in a new host, domestic cats, to determine the evolutionary consequences to a host-adapted virus associated with cross-species infection. Our results indicate that there are no significant differences in survival, fecundity or susceptibility to other infections between FIVpco-infected and uninfected cougars. The molecular evolution of FIVpco is characterized by a slower evolutionary rate and an absence of positive selection, but also by proviral and plasma viral loads comparable to those of epidemic lentiviruses such as HIV-1 or FIVfca. Evolutionary and recombination rates and selection profiles change significantly when FIVpco replicates in a new host.
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