Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is a naturally-occurring retrovirus that infects domestic and non-domestic feline species, producing progressive immune depletion that results in an acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Much has been learned about FIV since it was first described in 1987, particularly in regard to its application as a model to study the closely related lentivirus, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). In particular, FIV and HIV share remarkable structure and sequence organization, utilize parallel modes of receptor-mediated entry, and result in a similar spectrum of immunodeficiency-related diseases due to analogous modes of immune dysfunction. This review summarizes current knowledge of FIV infection kinetics and the mechanisms of immune dysfunction in relation to opportunistic disease, specifically in regard to studying HIV pathogenesis. Furthermore, we present data that highlight changes in the oral microbiota and oral immune system during FIV infection, and outline the potential for the feline model of oral AIDS manifestations to elucidate pathogenic mechanisms of HIV-induced oral disease. Finally, we discuss advances in molecular biology, vaccine development, neurologic dysfunction, and the ability to apply pharmacologic interventions and sophisticated imaging technologies to study experimental and naturally occurring FIV, which provide an excellent, but often overlooked, resource for advancing therapies and the management of HIV/AIDS.
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