Historical Perspective

In the initial years of the study of retroviruses the main emphasis was on the potential of these agents to induce neoplastic transformation of various tissues, especially muscle cells, fibroblasts, mammary glands, and bone marrow-derived hematopoietic cells. Subsequently non-neoplastic pathogenic effects of retroviruses were described, including anemia, arthritis, glomerulonephritis, immunodeficiencies, osteopetrosis, and neurological disorders. The studies of visna virus infection in sheep by Sigurdsson and colleagues in the 1950s demonstrated a slow CNS disease lasting several years (Sigurdsson et al. 1957, 1960). This long time course led ultimately to the name "lentiviruses" for the subgroup—including visna—of retroviruses with complex genomes. In the 1970s, Gardner and colleagues described a murine retrovirus from the oncornavirus subgroup (with simple genomes) which induced a slow neurological disease (Gardner et al. 1973). Since that time a large variety of other retroviruses from both subfamilies capable of inducing neurological disease in a variety of species including humans have been described (Table 1).

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