Lentiviruses are unique retroviruses which cause diseases with long incubation periods and prolonged clinical courses. The prototype lentiviruses, visna/maedi of sheep and arthritis-encephalitis virus of goats (CAEV), infect cells of the monocyte-macrophage system and replicate at a restricted level in these cells. The virus life cycle is closely associated with maturational factors in the cells; monocytes support the early stages of the replication cycle which goes to completion only when the cells mature to macrophages. Virus replication in the monocyte-macrophage results in lesions characterized by mononuclear cell infiltration of the central nervous system (CNS), lungs, synovium and mammary gland and their draining lymph nodes. Co-cultivation of sheep or goat lymphocytes with macrophages infected with visna or CAE viruses results in production of a unique interferon (LV-IFN). LV-IFN is a non-glycosylated protein of 54,000 to 64,000 daltons and has biological properties which have several implications for pathogenesis. Firstly, it retards the rate of maturation of monocytes and thus indirectly slows the rate of virus replication. Second, it restricts the rate of virus replication in mature macrophages by preventing virus maturation. Third, it induces expression of class II (Ia) antigens of the major histocompatibility complex on cells of macrophage lineage. Thus, by curtailing virus replication and enhancing expression of MHC class II antigens, LV-IFN may contribute to the induction and augmentation of the host's lymphoproliferative response to the virus.
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