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Published August 15, 1988 | Published
Journal Article Open

Western Equine Encephalitis Virus is a Recombinant Virus


The alphaviruses are a group of 26 mosquitoborne viruses that cause a variety of human diseases. Many of the New World alphaviruses cause encephalitis, whereas the Old World viruses more typically cause fever, rash, and arthralgia. The genome is a single-stranded nonsegmented RNA molecule of + polarity; it is about 11,700 nucleotides in length. Several alphavirus genomes have been sequenced in whole or in part, and these sequences demonstrate that alphaviruses have descended from a common ancestor by divergent evolution. We have now obtained the sequence of the 3'-terminal 4288 nucleotides of the RNA of the New World Alphavirus western equine encephalitis virus (WEEV). Comparisons of the nucleotide and amino acid sequences of WEEV with those of other alphaviruses clearly show that WEEV is recombinant. The sequences of the capsid protein and of the (untranslated) 3'-terminal 80 nucleotides of WEEV are closely related to the corresponding sequences of the New World Alphavirus eastern equine encephalitis virus (EEEV), whereas the sequences of glycoproteins E2 and E1 of WEEV are more closely related to those of an Old World virus, Sindbis virus. Thus, WEEV appears to have arisen by recombination between an EEEV-like virus and a Sindbis-like virus to give rise to a new virus with the encephalogenic properties of EEEV but the antigenic specificity of Sindbis virus. There has been speculation that recombination might play an important role in the evolution of RNA viruses. The current finding that a widespread and successful RNA virus is recombinant provides support for such an hypothesis.

Additional Information

Copyright © 1988 by the National Academy of Sciences Communicated by James Bonner, April 14, 1988 We thank Drs. M. Stanley and J. Hardy for the WEEV RNA used in this project. This work was supported by Grants A120612 and A110793 from the National Institutes of Health and Grant DMB86-17372 from the National Science Foundation. The sequence reported in this paper is being deposited in the EMBL/GenBank data base (IntelliGenetics, Mountain View, CA, and Eur. Mol. Biol. Lab., Heidelberg) (accession no. J03854). The publication costs of this article were defrayed in part by page charge payment. This article must therefore be hereby marked "advertisement" in accordance with 18 U.S.C. §1734 solely to indicate this fact.

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