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J Virol. 1997 Mar;71(3):1946-55.

Episodic evolution mediates interspecies transfer of a murine coronavirus.

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  • 1Department of Epidemiology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 27599-7400, USA.


Molecular mechanisms permitting the establishment and dissemination of a virus within a newly adopted host species are poorly understood. Mouse hepatitis virus (MHV) strains (MHV-A59, MHV-JHM, and MHV-A59/MHV-JHM) were passaged in mixed cultures containing progressively increasing concentrations of nonpermissive Syrian baby hamster kidney (BHK) cells and decreasing concentrations of permissive murine DBT cells. From MHV-A59/MHV-JHM mixed infection, variant viruses (MHV-H1 and MHV-H2) which replicated efficiently in BHK cells were isolated. Under identical treatment conditions, the parental MHV-A59 or MHV-JHM strains failed to produce infectious virus or transcribe detectable levels of viral RNA or protein. The MHV-H isolates were polytrophic, replicating efficiently in normally nonpermissive Syrian hamster smooth muscle (DDT-1), Chinese hamster ovary (CHO), human adenocarcinoma (HRT), primate kidney (Vero), and murine 17Cl-1 cell lines. Little if any virus replication was detected in feline kidney (CRFK) and porcine testicular (ST) cell lines. The variant virus, MHV-H2, transcribed seven mRNAs equivalent in relative abundance and size to those synthesized by the parental virus strains. MHV-H2 was an RNA recombinant virus containing a crossover site in the S glycoprotein gene. At the molecular level, episodic evolution and positive Darwinian natural selection were apparent within the MHV-H2 S and HE glycoprotein genes. These findings differ from the hypothesis that neutral changes are the predominant feature of molecular evolution and argue that changing ecologies actuate episodic evolution in the MHV spike glycoprotein genes that govern interspecies transfer and spread into alternative hosts.

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