Genetic variability and the classification of hepatitis E virus.
Smith DB., Purdy MA., Simmonds P.
The classification of hepatitis E virus (HEV) variants is currently in transition without agreed definitions for genotypes and subtypes or for deeper taxonomic groupings into species and genera that could incorporate more recently characterized viruses assigned to the Hepeviridae family that infect birds, bats, rodents, and fish. These conflicts arise because of differences in the viruses and genomic regions compared and in the methodology used. We have reexamined published sequences and found that synonymous substitutions were saturated in comparisons between and within virus genotypes. Analysis of complete genome sequences or concatenated ORF1/ORF2 amino acid sequences indicated that HEV variants most closely related to those infecting humans can be consistently divided into six genotypes (types 1 to 4 and two additional genotypes from wild boar). Variants isolated from rabbits, closely related to genotype 3, occupy an intermediate position. No consistent criteria could be defined for the assignment of virus subtypes. Analysis of amino acid sequences from these viruses with the more divergent variants from chickens, bats, and rodents in three conserved subgenomic regions (residues 1 to 452 or 974 to 1534 of ORF1 or residues 105 to 458 of ORF2) provided consistent support for a division into 4 groups, corresponding to HEV variants infecting humans and pigs, those infecting rats and ferrets, those from bats, and those from chickens. This approach may form the basis for a future genetic classification of HEV into four species, with the more divergent HEV-like virus from fish (cutthroat trout virus) representing a second genus.