Taiwan scientists unlock secrets of fatal cat disease

Atomic model of feline infectious peritonitis virus (FIPV) will help researchers discover vaccine

FIPV (visualized molecular structure) is fatal to cats. (Academia Sinica photo)

FIPV (visualized molecular structure) is fatal to cats. (Academia Sinica photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Academia Sinica shared its latest discovery on Jan. 16 and revealed the structure of feline infectious peritonitis virus (FIPV), which is often fatal for cats.

The discovery will contribute to understanding the coronavirus infection and help researchers produce a vaccine. The threat of coronaviruses is apparent in severe diseases like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

Once a cat is infected with the virus that causes serotype 1 feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), there is no effective treatment, and the fatality rate is almost 100%.

To better understand the molecular basis of FIP, Dr. Hsu Shang-te (徐尚德) and Dr. Kay-Hooi Khoo (邱繼輝) teamed up with scholars from the College of Bioresources and Agriculture, National Taiwan University (NTU). Together they carried out an investigation of the structure and function of the spike protein of type 1 FIPV.

They found FIPV has a novel structural arrangement, entirely different from the molecular structures of SARS and MERS spike proteins. Details of the FIPV molecular model reveal the virus is well equipped to evade the host's immune system.

Understanding the molecular structure is crucial because a simple mutation could enable the virus to switch its host from animals to humans — in the same way SARS and MERS used to target only on civets and camels, respectively.

Researchers believe the realized visualization of the FIPV spike proteins will boost the invention and production of a vaccine for the disease, and help combat other coronaviruses.