Evolutionary changes in the capsid P2 region of Australian strains of the norovirus GII.Pe_GII.4

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Abstract

Purpose.

The protruding (P) 2 region of the norovirus capsid is thought to include hypervariable sites involved in receptor binding. This study examines the changes that occurred in the P2 region of GII.Pe_GII.4 norovirus in the course of its evolution from a precursor phase (2008-2009), to an intermediate phase (2010) and finally to an epidemic phase (2012-2015).

Methodology.

Twenty-two P2 region amino acid (aa) sequences (166 aa long) from all phases of the evolution of the virus were compared and the changes analysed.

Results/key findings.

Twenty sites in the P2 region underwent aa change and of these, 10 corresponded to previously proposed hypervariable sites and 10 to novel hypervariable sites. It was notable that aa changes at two sites, X and Y, only emerged as the epidemic phase progressed. 3D computer modelling of the P2 region indicated that neither X nor Y were in the uppermost ‘crown’, but further down in the ‘neck’ portion. The location of X and Y and the nature of aa change at Y suggest these sites were important in enhancing the structural integrity of the capsid, which in turn may have facilitated the longer term viability of the virus.

Conclusion.

The current study helps establish the validity of previously proposed hypervariable sites in the P2 region as well as indicating new ones. It also provides quantitative and qualitative data on how these sites changed over the evolutionary history of a particular norovirus strain.

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