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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1997 Dec 23;94(26):14542-6.

Asian genotypes of JC virus in Native Americans and in a Pacific Island population: markers of viral evolution and human migration.

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  • 1Neurotoxicology Section, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.


The human polyomavirus JC (JCV) causes the central nervous system demyelinating disease progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy. Previously, we showed that 40% of Caucasians in the United States excrete JCV in the urine as detected by PCR. We have now studied 68 Navaho from New Mexico, 25 Flathead from Montana, and 29 Chamorro from Guam. By using PCR amplification of a fragment of the VP1 gene, JCV DNA was detected in the urine of 45 (66%) Navaho, 14 (56%) Flathead, and 20 (69%) Chamorro. Genotyping of viral DNAs in these cohorts by cycle sequencing showed predominantly type 2 (Asian), rather than type 1 (European). Type 1 is the major type in the United States and Hungary. Type 2 can be further subdivided into 2A, 2B, and 2C. Type 2A is found in China and Japan. Type 2B is a subtype related to the East Asian type, and is now found in Europe and the United States. The large majority (56-89%) of strains excreted by Native Americans and Pacific Islanders were the type 2A subtype, consistent with the origin of these strains in Asia. These findings indicate that JCV infection of Native Americans predates contact with Europeans, and likely predates migration of Amerind ancestors across the Bering land bridge around 12,000-30,000 years ago. If JCV had already differentiated into stable modern genotypes and subtypes prior to first settlement, the origin of JCV in humans may date from 50,000 to 100,000 years ago or more. We conclude that JCV may have coevolved with the human species, and that it provides a convenient marker for human migrations in both prehistoric and modern times.

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