Open Access Research article

Molecular phylodynamics and protein modeling of infectious salmon anemia virus (ISAV)

Eduardo Castro-Nallar1*, Marcelo Cortez-San Martín2, Carolina Mascayano3, Cristian Molina23 and Keith A Crandall1

Author affiliations

1 Department of Biology, 401 Widtsoe Building, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT 84602-5181, USA

2 Centro de Biotecnología Acuícola, Laboratorio de Virología, Facultad de Química y Biología, Universidad de Santiago de Chile, Avenida Libertador Bernardo O'Higgins 3363 Santiago, Chile

3 Facultad de Química y Biología, Universidad de Santiago de Chile, Avenida Libertador Bernardo O'Higgins 3363 Santiago, Chile

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Citation and License

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2011, 11:349  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-349

Published: 2 December 2011



ISAV is a member of the Orthomyxoviridae family that affects salmonids with disastrous results. It was first detected in 1984 in Norway and from then on it has been reported in Canada, United States, Scotland and the Faroe Islands. Recently, an outbreak was recorded in Chile with negative consequences for the local fishing industry. However, few studies have examined available data to test hypotheses associated with the phylogeographic partitioning of the infecting viral population, the population dynamics, or the evolutionary rates and demographic history of ISAV. To explore these issues, we collected relevant sequences of genes coding for both surface proteins from Chile, Canada, and Norway. We addressed questions regarding their phylogenetic relationships, evolutionary rates, and demographic history using modern phylogenetic methods.


A recombination breakpoint was consistently detected in the Hemagglutinin-Esterase (he) gene at either side of the Highly Polymorphic Region (HPR), whereas no recombination breakpoints were detected in Fusion protein (f) gene. Evolutionary relationships of ISAV revealed the 2007 Chilean outbreak group as a monophyletic clade for f that has a sister relationship to the Norwegian isolates. Their tMRCA is consistent with epidemiological data and demographic history was successfully recovered showing a profound bottleneck with further population expansion. Finally, selection analyses detected ongoing diversifying selection in f and he codons associated with protease processing and the HPR region, respectively.


Our results are consistent with the Norwegian origin hypothesis for the Chilean outbreak clade. In particular, ISAV HPR0 genotype is not the ancestor of all ISAV strains, although SK779/06 (HPR0) shares a common ancestor with the Chilean outbreak clade. Our analyses suggest that ISAV shows hallmarks typical of RNA viruses that can be exploited in epidemiological and surveillance settings. In addition, we hypothesized that genetic diversity of the HPR region is governed by recombination, probably due to template switching and that novel fusion gene proteolytic sites confer a selective advantage for the isolates that carry them. Additionally, protein modeling allowed us to relate the results of phylogenetic studies with the predicted structures. This study demonstrates that phylogenetic methods are important tools to predict future outbreaks of ISAV and other salmon pathogens.