Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-related sleep disturbances have been reported early in AIDS. Likewise, the feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), a natural lentivirus pathogen of cats, produces a similar immunodeficiency syndrome with neurological sequelae. To identify the neurophysiological substrate of FIV infection in brain, pathogen-free cats were infected with the Maryland strain of FIV. Eight weeks after inoculation, all FIV-infected cats seroconverted and virus was detected in the cerebrospinal fluid and in the mononuclear cells of peripheral blood. Ten to 12 months after the FIV inoculation, inoculated and control cats were surgically implanted with electrodes to record the sleep/wake cycle. These sleep recordings were obtained under conditions controlling for environmental variables and instrumental adaptation. FIV-infected cats spent 50% more time awake than the sham-inoculated controls and exhibited many more sleep/waking stage shifts--i.e., 40% more than controls. In addition, FIV-infected cats showed approximately 30% of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep reduction compared to controls. The latency to sleep and REM sleep onset was also significantly delayed in FIV-infected cats. In addition, a remarkable increase in cortically recorded spindle activity (8-13 Hz) was observed during slow-wave sleep in some infected subjects, similar to changes described in HIV-infected humans. Moreover, infected cats exhibited no overt signs of systemic morbidity, such as hyperpyrexia or body weight loss. These results indicate that FIV-infected cats exhibit sleep abnormalities similar to the sleep disturbances previously described in AIDS patients and further support the feline preparation as a valuable animal model of HIV infection of the central nervous system.