A reassessment of the evolutionary timescale of bat rabies viruses based upon glycoprotein gene sequences
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- Kuzmina, N.A., Kuzmin, I.V., Ellison, J.A. et al. Virus Genes (2013) 47: 305. doi:10.1007/s11262-013-0952-9
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Rabies, an acute progressive encephalomyelitis caused by viruses in the genus Lyssavirus, is one of the oldest known infectious diseases. Although dogs and other carnivores represent the greatest threat to public health as rabies reservoirs, it is commonly accepted that bats are the primary evolutionary hosts of lyssaviruses. Despite early historical documentation of rabies, molecular clock analyses indicate a quite young age of lyssaviruses, which is confusing. For example, the results obtained for partial and complete nucleoprotein gene sequences of rabies viruses (RABV), or for a limited number of glycoprotein gene sequences, indicated that the time of the most recent common ancestor (TMRCA) for current bat RABV diversity in the Americas lies in the seventeenth to eighteenth centuries and might be directly or indirectly associated with the European colonization. Conversely, several other reports demonstrated high genetic similarity between lyssavirus isolates, including RABV, obtained within a time interval of 25–50 years. In the present study, we attempted to re-estimate the age of several North American bat RABV lineages based on the largest set of complete and partial glycoprotein gene sequences compiled to date (n = 201) employing a codon substitution model. Although our results overlap with previous estimates in marginal areas of the 95 % high probability density (HPD), they suggest a longer evolutionary history of American bat RABV lineages (TMRCA at least 732 years, with a 95 % HPD 436–1107 years).