Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) provokes a disease in cats characterized by histopathological lesions similar to those observed in AIDS patients. In order to determine whether endothelial cells from brain microvessels are involved in the central nervous system disease to the same extent as macrophages and microglia, cells were isolated from healthy cat brains, cultured and infected with the FIV Villefranche IFFA 1/88 strain. The isolated cells displayed typical endothelial cell ultrastructural features and were characterized further by von Willebrand factor-labelling and the binding of specific lectins such as lectin on their membrane. They were also able to take up acetylated low density lipoproteins. Two weeks after infection, significant amounts of FIV p24 antigen were detected by indirect immunofluorescence in syncytia and single cells. Concomitantly, the same antigen could be detected in the culture medium of the infected cells by an ELISA technique. Numerous viral particles as well as different steps in the process of viral budding were observed under transmission electron microscopy. The synthesis of FIV p24 antigens still occurred in cells in which replication was blocked in the G phase with taxol. Our results suggest the possibility of a productive infection of brain microvascular endothelial cells by FIV , which could lead to important perturbations in the functions of the blood-brain barrier.


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