Rabies is a zoonotic disease that is endemic in many parts of the developing world, especially in Africa and Asia. However its epidemiology remains largely unappreciated in much of these regions, such as in Nepal, where limited information is available about the spatiotemporal dynamics of the main etiological agent, the rabies virus (RABV). In this study, we describe for the first time the phylogenetic diversity and evolution of RABV circulating in Nepal, as well as their geographical relationships within the broader region. A total of 24 new isolates obtained from Nepal and collected from 2003 to 2011 were full-length sequenced for both the nucleoprotein and the glycoprotein genes, and analysed using neighbour-joining and maximum-likelihood phylogenetic methods with representative viruses from all over the world, including new related RABV strains from neighbouring or more distant countries (Afghanistan, Greenland, Iran, Russia and USA). Despite Nepal's limited land surface and its particular geographical position within the Indian subcontinent, our study revealed the presence of a surprising wide genetic diversity of RABV, with the co-existence of three different phylogenetic groups: an Indian subcontinent clade and two different Arctic-like sub-clades within the Arctic-related clade. This observation suggests at least two independent episodes of rabies introduction from neighbouring countries. In addition, specific phylogenetic and temporal evolution analysis of viruses within the Arctic-related clade has identified a new recently emerged RABV lineage we named as the Arctic-like 3 (AL-3) sub-clade that is already widely spread in Nepal.
Rabies is endemic in most Asian countries and represents a serious public health issue, with an estimated 31,000 people dying each year of this disease. The majority of human cases are transmitted by domestic dogs, which act as the principal reservoir host and vector. However, molecular epidemiology and evolutionary dynamics of the main etiological agent, the rabies virus (RABV), remains largely unappreciated in some regions such as in Nepal. Based on a subset of 24 new Nepalese isolates collected from 2003 to 2011 and representative RABV strains at a global scale, phylogenetic analysis based on the complete nucleoprotein and glycoprotein genes sequences revealed the presence of a surprising wide genetic diversity of RABV circulating in this country. The presence of three different co-existing phylogenetic groups was identified: an Indian subcontinent clade and two different Arctic-like sub-clades within the Arctic-related clade, namely Arctic-like (AL)-1, lineage a (AL-1a), and AL-3. Among these clusters, the AL-3 sub-clade appears as the major Nepalese phylogroup which emerged relatively recently in this country, within the last 30 years. These data has raised some concerns about the exchange of RABV between different countries, and provided key elements for implementation of effective control measures of rabies in Nepal.