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J Virol. 2000 Jun;74(11):5377-81.

Molecular epidemiology of hepatitis B virus variants in nonhuman primates.

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Department of Medical Microbiology, University of Göttingen, D-37075 Göttingen, Germany.


We characterized hepatitis B virus (HBV) isolates from sera of 21 hepatitis B virus surface antigen-positive apes, members of the families Pongidae and Hylobatidae (19 gibbon spp., 1 chimpanzee, and 1 gorilla). Sera originate from German, French, Thai, and Vietnamese primate-keeping institutions. To estimate the phylogenetic relationships, we sequenced two genomic regions, one located within the pre-S1/pre-S2 region and one including parts of the polymerase and the X protein open reading frames. By comparison with published human and ape HBV isolates, the sequences could be classified into six genomic groups. Four of these represented new genomic groups of gibbon HBV variants. The gorilla HBV isolate was distantly related to the chimpanzee isolate described previously. To confirm these findings, the complete HBV genome from representatives of each genomic group was sequenced. The HBV isolates from gibbons living in different regions of Thailand and Vietnam could be classified into four different phylogenetically distinct genomic groups. The same genomic groups were found in animals from European zoos. Therefore, the HBV infections of these apes might have been introduced into European primate-keeping facilities by direct import of already infected animals from different regions in Thailand. Taken together, our data suggest that HBV infections are indigenous in the different apes. One event involving transmission between human and nonhuman primates in the Old World of a common ancestor of human HBV genotypes A to E and the ape HBV variants might have occurred.

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