The Molecular Epidemiology and Evolution of Epstein-Barr Virus: Sequence Variation and Genetic Recombination in the Latent Membrane Protein-1 Gene

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The phylogeny and evolution of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) genetic variation are poorly understood. EBV latent membrane protein-1 (LMP-1) gene sequences are especially heterogeneous and may be useful as a tool for EBV genotype identification. Therefore, LMP-1 sequences obtained directly from EBV-infected human tissues were examined by PCR amplification and cloning. EBV genotypes were defined as “strains” from among 22 identified LMP-1 sequence patterns. Three molecular mechanisms were identified by which genetic diversity arises in the LMP-1 gene: point mutation, sequence deletion or duplication, and homologous recombination. The rate of LMP-1 gene evolution was found to be accelerated by coinfection with multiple EBV strains. The results of this study refine our understanding of LMP-1 sequence variation and enable accurate discrimination between independent EBV infection events and the consequence of intrahost EBV evolution. Thus, this LMP-1 sequence-based approach to EBV molecular epidemiology will facilitate the study of intrahost EBV infection, coinfection, and persistence.

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