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J Virol. 1990 April; 64(4): 1487–1497.
PMCID: PMC249282

Evolution of the nucleoprotein gene of influenza A virus.


Nucleotide sequences of 24 nucleoprotein (NP) genes isolated from a wide range of hosts, geographic regions, and influenza A virus serotypes and 18 published NP gene sequences were analyzed to determine evolutionary relationships. The phylogeny of NP genes was determined by a maximum-parsimony analysis of nucleotide sequences. Phylogenetic analysis showed that NP genes have evolved into five host-specific lineages, including (i) Equine/Prague/56 (EQPR56), (ii) recent equine strains, (iii) classic swine (H1N1 swine, e.g., A/Swine/Iowa/15/30) and human strains, (iv) gull H13 viruses, and (v) avian strains (including North American, Australian, and Old World subgroups). These NP lineages match the five RNA hybridization groups identified by W. J. Bean (Virology 133:438-442, 1984). Maximum nucleotide differences among the NPs was 18.5%, but maximum amino acid differences reached only 10.8%, reflecting the conservative nature of the NP protein. Evolutionary rates varied among lineages; the human lineage showed the highest rate (2.54 nucleotide changes per year), followed by the Old World avian lineage (2.17 changes per year) and the recent equine lineage (1.22 changes per year). The per-nucleotide rates of human and avian NP gene evolution (1.62 x 10(-3) to 1.39 x 10(-3) changes per year) are lower than that reported for human NS genes (2.0 x 10(-3) changes per year; D. A. Buonagurio, S. Nakada, J. D. Parvin, M. Krystal, P. Palese, and W. M. Fitch, Science 232:980-982, 1986). Of the five NP lineages, the human lineage showed the greatest evolution at the amino acid level; over a period of 50 years, human NPs have accumulated 39 amino acid changes. In contrast, the avian lineage showed remarkable conservatism; over the same period, avian NP proteins changed by 0 to 10 amino acids. The specificity of the H13 NP in gulls and its distinct evolutionary separation from the classic avian lineage suggests that H13 NPs may have a large degree of adaptation to gulls. The presence of avian and human NPs in some swine isolates demonstrates the susceptibility of swine to different virus strains and supports the hypothesis that swine may serve as intermediates for the introduction of avian influenza virus genes into the human virus gene pool. EQPR56 is relatively distantly related to all other NP lineages, which suggests that this NP is rooted closest to the ancestor of all contemporary NPs. On the basis of estimation of evolutionary rates from nucleotide branch distances, current NP lineages are at least 100 years old, and the EQPR56 NP is much older.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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Selected References

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