Cross-order host switches of hepatitis C-related viruses illustrated by a novel hepacivirus from sloths.
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Drexler, Jan Felix
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AbstractThe genealogy of the hepatitis C virus (HCV) and the genus Hepacivirus remains elusive despite numerous recently discovered animal hepaciviruses (HVs). Viruses from evolutionarily ancient mammals might elucidate the HV macro-evolutionary patterns. Here, we investigated sixty-seven two-toed and nine three-toed sloths from Costa Rica for HVs using molecular and serological tools. A novel sloth HV was detected by reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) in three-toed sloths (2/9, 22.2%; 95% confidence interval (CI), 5.3-55.7). Genomic characterization revealed typical HV features including overall polyprotein gene structure, a type 4 internal ribosomal entry site in the viral 5'-genome terminus, an A-U-rich region and X-tail structure in the viral 3'-genome terminus. Different from other animal HVs, HV seropositivity in two-toed sloths was low at 4.5 per cent (3/67; CI, 1.0-12.9), whereas the RT-PCR-positive three-toed sloths were seronegative. Limited cross-reactivity of the serological assay implied exposure of seropositive two-toed sloths to HVs of unknown origin and recent infections in RT-PCR-positive animals preceding seroconversion. Recent infections were consistent with only 9 nucleotide exchanges between the two sloth HVs, located predominantly within the E1/E2 encoding regions. Translated sequence distances of NS3 and NS5 proteins and host comparisons suggested that the sloth HV represents a novel HV species. Event- and sequence distance-based reconciliations of phylogenies of HVs and of their hosts revealed complex macro-evolutionary patterns, including both long-term evolutionary associations and host switches, most strikingly from rodents into sloths. Ancestral state reconstructions corroborated rodents as predominant sources of HV host switches during the genealogy of extant HVs. Sequence distance comparisons, partial conservation of critical amino acid residues associated with HV entry and selection pressure signatures of host genes encoding entry and antiviral protein orthologs were consistent with HV host switches between genetically divergent mammals, including the projected host switch from rodents into sloths. Structural comparison of HCV and sloth HV E2 proteins suggested conserved modes of hepaciviral entry. Our data corroborate complex macro-evolutionary patterns shaping the genus Hepacivirus, highlight that host switches are possible across highly diverse host taxa, and elucidate a prominent role of rodent hosts during the Hepacivirus genealogy.
CitationVirus Evol. 2020 Apr 25;6(2):veaa033. doi: 10.1093/ve/veaa033.
AffiliationTWINCORE, Zentrum für experimentelle und klinische Infektionsforschung GmbH,Feodor-Lynen Str. 7, 30625 Hannover, Germany.
PublisherOxford University Press
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