The oncogenic retrovirus bovine leukaemia virus (BLV) primarily infects B cells. Most infected animals remain asymptomatic for long periods of time before an increase in circulating B cells or localized tumours can be observed. This long clinical latency period may be explained by cells of the monocyte/macrophage lineage (M/M) becoming infected and acting as a reservoir for the virus, as shown for other retroviruses (human immunodeficiency virus-1, feline immunodeficiency virus). M/M cells in different stages of differentiation (HL-60, THP-1, U-937, J774, BGM, PM2, primary macrophages of sheep and cows) were cultured with BLV produced by permanently infected donor cells (FLKBLV and BLV-bat). Donor cells were inhibited from multiplying by either irradiation or treatment with mitomycin C. In other experiments, supernatant from donor cells containing virus was used. In co-culture with the donor cells, the less differentiated monocytic cells showed severe cellular changes such as differentiation, vacuolization, cell lysis and membrane blebbing; apoptosis was a frequent phenomenon. Budding and extracellular viruses were also observed. The more differentiated macrophage cells, although they showed less signs of infection by microscopy, had a complete BLV protein profile, as seen by Western blotting; bands corresponding to p24CA (Gag) and its precursors were clearly seen. In addition, gp51SU was identified by syncytia formation assays. It is concluded that M/M cells may be infected by BLV, the consequences of the infection differing according to the type of cell.


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