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J Virol. 2012 Sep;86(18):9558-65. doi: 10.1128/JVI.00357-12. Epub 2012 Jul 3.

Pangaea and the Out-of-Africa Model of Varicella-Zoster Virus Evolution and Phylogeography.

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  • 1Children's Hospital, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, USA.


The goal of this minireview is to provide an overview of varicella-zoster virus (VZV) phylogenetics and phylogeography when placed in the broad context of geologic time. Planet Earth was formed over 4 billion years ago, and the supercontinent Pangaea coalesced around 400 million years ago (mya). Based on detailed tree-building models, the base of the phylogenetic tree of the Herpesviridae family has been estimated at 400 mya. Subsequently, Pangaea split into Laurasia and Gondwanaland; in turn, Africa rifted from Gondwanaland. Based on available data, the hypothesis of this minireview is that the ancestral alphaherpesvirus VZV coevolved in simians, apes, and hominins in Africa. When anatomically modern humans first crossed over the Red Sea 60,000 years ago, VZV was carried along in their dorsal root ganglia. Currently, there are five VZV clades, distinguishable by single nucleotide polymorphisms. These clades likely represent continued VZV coevolution, as humans with latent VZV infection left Arabia and dispersed into Asia (clades 2 and 5) and Europe (clades 1, 3, and 4). The prototype VZV sequence contains nearly 125,000 bp, divided into 70 open reading frames. Generally, isolates within a clade display >99.9% identity to one another, while members of one clade compared to a second clade show 99.8% identity to one another. Recently, four different VZV genotypes that do not segregate into the previously defined five clades have been identified, a result indicating a wider than anticipated diversity among newly collected VZV strains around the world.

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