Revealing new measles virus transmission routes by use of sequence analysis of phosphoprotein and hemagglutinin genes.
- Clinical and Applied Virology
With improved measles virus (MV) control, the genetic variability of the MV-nucleoprotein hypervariable region (NP-HVR) decreases. Thus, it becomes increasingly difficult to determine the origin of a virus using only this part of the genome. During outbreaks in Europe and Africa, we found MV strains with identical NP-HVR sequences. However, these strains showed considerable diversity within a larger sequencing window based on concatenated MV phosphoprotein and hemagglutinin genes (P/H pseudogenes). In Belarus, Germany, Russia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the P/H pseudogenes provided insights into chains of transmission, whereas identical NP-HVR provided none. In Russia, for instance, the P/H pseudogene identified temporal clusters rather than geographical clusters, demonstrating the circulation and importation of independent variants rather than large local outbreaks lasting for several years, as suggested by NP-HVR. Thus, by extending the sequencing window for molecular epidemiology, a more refined picture of MV circulation was obtained with more clearly defined links between outbreaks and transmission chains. Our results also suggested that in contrast to the P gene, the H gene acquired fixed substitutions that continued to be found in subsequent outbreaks, possibly with consequences for its antigenicity. Thus, a longer sequencing window has true benefits both for the epidemiological surveillance of measles and for the better monitoring of viral evolution.