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Open Access Research article

Evolution of endogenous retroviruses in the Suidae: evidence for different viral subpopulations in African and Eurasian host species

Fabrícia F Nascimento15, Jaime Gongora1, Michael Charleston2, Michael Tristem3, Stewart Lowden4 and Chris Moran1*

Author Affiliations

1 Faculty of Veterinary Science, The University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia

2 School of Information Technologies and Centre for Mathematical Biology, The University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia

3 Division of Biology, Imperial College London, Silwood Park, Ascot, Berkshire SL5 7PY, UK

4 Veterinary Health Research Pty Ltd. Armidale, NSW 2350, Australia

5 Instituto de Microbiologia Paulo de Góes, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Avenida Carlos Chagas Filho, 373, Rio de Janeiro 21941-902, Brazil

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2011, 11:139  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-139

Published: 24 May 2011

Abstract

Background

Porcine endogenous retroviruses (PERVs) represent remnants of an exogenous form that have become integrated in the domestic pig (Sus scrofa) genome. Although they are usually inactive, the capacity of γ1 ERVs to infect human cells in vitro has raised concerns about xenotransplantation because the viruses could cross the species barrier to humans. Here we have analyzed the evolution of γ1 ERVs in ten species of Suidae (suids, pigs and hogs) from Eurasia and Africa using DNA sequences for their coding domains (gag, pro/pol and env genes). For comparison with γ1 PERVs, we have also analysed γ2 ERVs which in domestic pigs are known to be inactive and do not pose a risk to xenotransplantation.

Results

Phylogenetic analysis using Bayesian inference showed that γ1 and γ2 ERVs have distinctive evolutionary histories. Firstly, two different viral lineages of γ1 ERVs were found and a coevolutionary analysis demonstrated that they correspond broadly to their host phylogeny, one of Eurasian and another of African species, and show no evidence of horizontal transmission. γ2 ERVs, however, show a bush-like evolution, suggesting a rapid viral radiation from a single common ancestor with no correspondence between host and viral evolutionary trees. Furthermore, though γ1 ERV env genes do not possess frequent stop codons, γ2 env genes do. To understand whether γ1 suid ERVs may be still replicating, we have also evaluated their likely mechanism of proliferation by statistically testing internal to terminal branches using nonsynonymous versus synonymous substitution ratios. Our results suggest that γ1 ERVs are increasing in copy number by reinfection, which requires the translocation of the virus from one cell to another.

Conclusions

Evidence of at least two viral subpopulations was observed in γ1 ERVs from Eurasian and African host species. These results should be taken into account in xenotransplantation since γ1 ERVs appear to be codiverging with their host and maintaining ongoing capacity to infect somatic and germ cells.