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J Med Virol. 2013 Apr;85(4):627-35. doi: 10.1002/jmv.23504. Epub 2013 Jan 30.

Hepatitis E virus isolated from rabbits is genetically heterogeneous but with very similar antigenicity to human HEV.

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Department of Internal Medicine, Affiliated Zhongda Hospital, School of Medicine, Southeast University, Nanjing, China.

Erratum in

  • J Med Virol. 2013 Jun;85(6):1125.


Rabbit hepatitis E virus (HEV) in China may represent a novel HEV genotype, although no consensus has been reached. It is unclear whether the ORF2 capsid protein containing the immunodominant epitopes from rabbit HEV differs from those of human HEV. In this study, 661 bile samples collected from domestic rabbits in Jiangsu province, eastern China were amplified by RT-nPCR using a set of HEV universal ORF2 primers. All 42 (6.4%) positive PCR products were sequenced. Phylogenetic analysis using the ORF2 sequences of 557 bp in length showed the Jiangsu isolates were separate from HEV genotypes 1, 2, 3, 4, avian HEV and rat HEV, and clustered together with rabbit HEV sequences. These 42 isolates were divided into five branches including two newly identified in the present study. Comparison with rabbit HEV sequences from China available in GenBank, using a 298 bp ORF2 segment, showed these sequences clustered together into a unique rabbit HEV clade, and were divided into eight sub-branches with high genetic heterogeneity. In addition, 267 serum samples collected from domestic rabbits, serial serum samples from two rhesus monkeys experimentally infected with HEV genotype 1 or 4, and serial serum samples from two New-Zealand rabbits infected experimentally with rabbit HEV were tested simultaneously by EIA using recombinant truncated ORF2 capsid proteins derived from rabbit and human HEV. The virtually identical results obtained suggest that rabbit and human HEV ORF2 antigens contain very similar immunodominant epitopes. All these data are helpful to identify the biological characteristics of the newly identified rabbit HEV.

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