Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) causes progressive immunodeficiency in domestic cats, with clinical course dependent on virus strain. For example, clade A FIV-PPR is predominantly neurotropic and causes a mild disease in the periphery, whereas clade C FIV-C36 causes fulminant disease with CD4(+) T-cell depletion and neutropenia but no significant pathology in the central nervous system. In order to map pathogenic determinants, chimeric viruses were prepared between FIV-C36 and FIV-PPR, with reciprocal exchanges involving (i) the 3' halves of the viruses, including the Vif, OrfA, and Env genes; (ii) the 5' end extending from the 5' long terminal repeat (LTR) to the beginning of the capsid (CA)-coding region; and (iii) the 3' LTR and Rev2-coding regions. Ex vivo replication rates and in vivo replication and pathologies were then assessed and compared to those of the parental viruses. The results show that FIV-C36 replicates ex vivo and in vivo to levels approximately 20-fold greater than those of FIV-PPR. None of the chimeric FIVs recapitulated the replication rate of FIV-C36, although most replicated to levels similar to those of FIV-PPR. The rates of chloramphenicol acetyltransferase gene transcription driven by the FIV-C36 and FIV-PPR LTRs were identical. Furthermore, the ratios of surface glycoprotein (SU) to capsid protein (CA) in the released particles were essentially the same in the wild-type and chimeric FIVs. Tests were performed in vivo on the wild-type FIVs and chimeras carrying the 3' half of FIV-C36 or the 3' LTR and Rev2 regions of FIV-C36 on the PPR background. Both chimeras were infectious in vivo, although replication levels were lower than for the parental viruses. The chimera carrying the 3' half of FIV-C36 demonstrated an intermediate disease course with a delayed peak viral load but ultimately resulted in significant reductions in neutrophil and CD4(+) T cells, suggesting potential adaptation in vivo. Taken together, the findings suggest that the rapid-growth phenotype and pathogenicity of FIV-C36 are the result of evolutionary fine tuning throughout the viral genome, rather than being properties of any one constituent.