Feline Leukemia Virus Detection in Corneal Tissues of Cats by Polymerase Chain Reaction and Immunohistochemistry


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Virginia Tech


Corneal transplantation carries a high rate of success in the domestic cat and is an indicated treatment for specific corneal diseases in this species. The potential for iatrogenic transmission of viral diseases is a well-recognized problem in human corneal transplantation programs and screening donors for certain diseases is routine. Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is a common agent of disease in domestic cats and available blood tests are highly effective in identification of infected individuals. This study investigates the presence of FeLV within corneal tissues of FeLV infected cats.

Seventeen cats were identified to be positive for serum p27 antigen by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). Twelve of these individuals were found to be positive on peripheral blood by immunofluorescent antibody (IFA) testing. Seventeen ELISA negative cats were identified to serve as negative controls. Full thickness corneal specimens were collected from all subjects and analyzed for the presence of FeLV proviral DNA and gp70 antigen by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and immunohistochemical (IHC) testing, respectively.

Eleven (64.7%) positive corneal PCR results were obtained from 17 ELISA positive cats. Of 12 cats which were both ELISA and IFA positive on peripheral blood, 10 (83.3%) had positive corneal PCR results. All corneal tissues from ELISA negative subjects were PCR negative. IHC staining of corneal sections revealed the presence of FeLV gp70 in corneal tissues of nine (52.9%) ELISA positive cats. Of the 12 cats which were both ELISA and IFA positive on peripheral blood, 8 (66.7%) had positive corneal IHC results. Positive IHC staining was localized to the corneal epithelium. Corneal tissues of all ELISA negative cats and all IFA negative cats were negative on IHC testing.

This study reveals FeLV to be present within the corneal epithelium of some FeLV infected cats. Screening potential corneal donors for this virus is warranted.

This work was funded by grants from the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists, the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association Pet Memorial Fund, and the DSACS Quick Response Fund.



polymerase chain reaction, feline leukemia virus, cornea, immunohistochemistry