HIV-1 infection is often complicated by central nervous system (CNS) dysfunction. Degenerative neuronal changes as well as neuronal loss have been documented in individuals with AIDS. Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) infection of cats provides a model for both the immune and the central nervous system manifestations of HIV infection of humans. In this study we have examined neurons in the frontal cortex of feline immunodeficiency virus-infected cats and controls for immunoreactivity with SMI 32, an antibody recognizing a non-phosphorylated epitope on neurofilaments. We noted a significant increase in the number of immunoreactive pyramidal cells in infected animals compared to controls. The changes seen in the neuronal cytoskeleton as a consequence of the inoculation with FIV were similar to those seen in humans undergoing the normal aging process as well as those suffering from neurological diseases, including Alzheimer's and dementia pugilistica. The changes we noted in the feline brain were also similar to that reported in animals with traumatic injuries or with spontaneously occurring or induced motor neuron diseases, suggesting that the increase in reactivity represents a deleterious effect of FIV on the central nervous system.