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Journal of Virology, 25 April 2018

Ianei de Oliveira Carneiro, Anna-Lena Sander, Namá Silva, Andres Moreira-Soto, Andrea Normann, Bertram Flehmig, Alexander N. Lukashev, Andreas Dotzauer, Nicolas Wieseke, Carlos Roberto Franke and Jan Felix Drexler

The discovery of highly diverse nonprimate hepatoviruses illuminated the evolutionary origins of hepatitis A virus (HAV) ancestors in mammals other than primates. Marsupials are ancient mammals that diverged from other Eutheria during the Jurassic. Viruses from marsupials may thus provide important insight into virus evolution. To investigate Hepatovirus macroevolutionary patterns, we sampled 112 opossums in northeastern Brazil. A novel marsupial HAV (MHAV) in the Brazilian common opossum (Didelphis aurita) was detected by nested reverse transcription-PCR (RT-PCR). MHAV concentration in the liver was high, at 2.5 × 109 RNA copies/g, and at least 300-fold higher than those in other solid organs, suggesting hepatotropism. Hepatovirus seroprevalence in D. aurita was 26.6% as determined using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). Endpoint titers in confirmatory immunofluorescence assays were high, and marsupial antibodies colocalized with anti-HAV control sera, suggesting specificity of serological detection and considerable antigenic relatedness between HAV and MHAV. MHAV showed all genomic hallmarks defining hepatoviruses, including late-domain motifs likely involved in quasi-envelope acquisition, a predicted C-terminal pX extension of VP1, strong avoidance of CpG dinucleotides, and a type 3 internal ribosomal entry site. Translated polyprotein gene sequence distances of at least 23.7% from other hepatoviruses suggested that MHAV represents a novel Hepatovirus species. Conserved predicted cleavage sites suggested similarities in polyprotein processing between HAV and MHAV. MHAV was nested within rodent hepatoviruses in phylogenetic reconstructions, suggesting an ancestral hepatovirus host switch from rodents into marsupials. Cophylogenetic reconciliations of host and hepatovirus phylogenies confirmed that host-independent macroevolutionary patterns shaped the phylogenetic relationships of extant hepatoviruses. Although marsupials are synanthropic and consumed as wild game in Brazil, HAV community protective immunity may limit the zoonotic potential of MHAV.