Comprehensive analysis of genetic and evolutionary features of the hepatitis E virus.

Research paper by Sarra S Baha, Nouredine N Behloul, Zhenzhen Z Liu, Wenjuan W Wei, Ruihua R Shi, Jihong J Meng

Indexed on: 01 Nov '19Published on: 31 Oct '19Published in: BMC Genomics


The hepatitis E virus (HEV) is the causative pathogen of hepatitis E, a global public health concern. HEV comprises 8 genotypes with a wide host range and geographic distribution. This study aims to determine the genetic factors influencing the molecular adaptive changes of HEV open reading frames (ORFs) and estimate the HEV origin and evolutionary history. Sequences of HEV strains isolated between 1982 and 2017 were retrieved and multiple analyses were performed to determine overall codon usage patterns, effects of natural selection and/or mutation pressure and host influence on the evolution of HEV ORFs. Besides, Bayesian Coalescent Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) Analysis was performed to estimate the spatial-temporal evolution of HEV. The results indicated an A/C nucleotide bias and ORF-dependent codon usage bias affected mainly by natural selection. The adaptation of HEV ORFs to their hosts was also ORF-dependent, with ORF1 and ORF2 sharing an almost similar adaptation profile to the different hosts. The discriminant analysis based on the adaptation index suggested that ORF1 and ORF3 could play a pivotal role in viral host tropism. In this study, we estimate that the common ancestor of the modern HEV strains emerged ~ 6000 years ago, in the period following the domestication of pigs. Then, natural selection played the major role in the evolution of the codon usage of HEV ORFs. The significant adaptation of ORF1 of genotype 1 to humans, makes ORF1 an evolutionary indicator of HEV host speciation, and could explain the epidemic character of genotype 1 strains in humans.