Journal of Molecular Evolution

, Volume 54, Issue 6, pp 807-814

First online:

A Revised Evolutionary History of Hepatitis B Virus (HBV)

  • Mario Ali FaresAffiliated withInstitut ``Cavanilles'' de Biodiversitat i Biologia Evolutiva and Department de Genética, Universitat de Valéncia, Valencia, Spain
  • , Edward C. HolmesAffiliated withDepartment of Zoology, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford OXI 3PS, UK

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


Previous studies of the evolutionary history of hepatitis B virus (HBV) have been compromised by intergenotype recombination and complex patterns of nucleotide substitution, perhaps caused by differential selection pressures. We examined the phylogenetic distribution of recombination events among human HBV genotypes and found that genotypes A plus D, and genotypes B plus C, had distinct patterns of recombination suggesting differing epidemiological relationships among them. By analyzing the nonoverlapping regions of the viral genome we found strong bootstrap support for some intergenotypic groupings, with evidence of a division between human genotypes A–E from the viruses sampled from apes and human genotype F. However, the earliest events in the divergence of HBV remain uncertain. These uncertainties could not be explained by differential selection pressures, as the ratio of nonsynonymous-to-synonymous substitutions (d N/d S) did not vary extensively among lineages and there is no strong evidence for positive selection across the whole tree. Finally, we provide a new estimate of the mean substitution rate in HBV, 4.2 × 10−5, which suggests that divergence of HBV in humans and apes has occurred only in the last 6000 years.

Key words: Hepatitis B virus — Phylogeny — Genotypes — Recombination — Substitution rates — Cross-species transmission