Feline leukemia virus subgroup C/Sarma (FeLV-C) induces pure red cell aplasia (PRCA) in cats. Just before the onset of anemia, erythroid colony-forming cells (CFU-E) become undetectable in marrow culture, yet normal frequencies of erythroid burst-forming cells (BFU-E)- and granulocyte-macrophage colony-forming cells (CFU-GM) persist. To determine if erythroid progenitors were uniquely infected with retrovirus, marrow mononuclear cells from cats viremic with FeLV-C were labeled with monoclonal antibodies to gp70 and then analyzed with a fluorescence-activated cell sorter. Both erythroid and granulocyte-macrophage progenitors were among cells sorting positively, suggesting that infection of BFU-E alone did not result in PRCA. The results were confirmed by complement (C') lysis studies using baby rabbit or guinea pig sera as sources of C'. These studies also suggested that BFU-E from cats with PRCA were unusually sensitive to C' alone, without the addition of antibody. In further studies, we demonstrated that C' activation was via the classical pathway and that C' sensitivity was unique to BFU-E and not a property of CFU-E, CFU-GM, or progenitors that were capable of giving rise to BFU-E in suspension culture. As BFU-E from cats viremic with FeLV-A/Glasgow-1 or the Rickard strain of feline leukemia virus were not sensitive to C', this finding may relate to the pathogenesis of feline PRCA. We hypothesize that, in cats viremic with FeLV-C, the abnormal C' sensitivity of BFU-E leads to the absence of CFU-E and anemia.
J L Abkowitz, R D Holly, C K Grant