Geographic and species association of hepatitis B virus genotypes in non-human primates.
Starkman SE., MacDonald DM., Lewis JCM., Holmes EC., Simmonds P.
Infection with hepatitis B virus (HBV) has been detected in human populations throughout the world, as well as in a number of ape species (Pan troglodytes, Gorilla gorilla, gibbons [Nomascus and Hylobates species] and Pongo pygmaeus). To investigate the distribution of naturally occurring HBV infection in these species and other African Old World monkey species (Cercopithecidae), we screened 137 plasma samples from mainly wild caught animals by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) using several of highly conserved primers from the HB surface (HBs) gene, and for HBs antigen (HBsAg) by ELISA. None of the 93 Cercopithecidae screened (6 species) showed PCR or serology evidence for HBV infection; in contrast 2 from 8 chimpanzees and 5 from 22 gibbons were PCR-positive with each set of primers. Complete genome sequences from each of the positive apes were obtained and compared with all previously published complete and surface gene sequences. This extended phylogenetic analysis indicated that HBV variants from orangutans were interspersed by with HBV variants from southerly distributed gibbon species (H. agilis and H. moloch) occupying overlapping or adjacent habitat ranges with orangutans; in contrast, HBV variants from gibbon species in mainland Asia were phylogenetically distinct. A geographical rather than (sub)species association of HBV would account for the distribution of HBV variants in different subspecies of chimpanzees in Africa, and explain the inlier position of the previously described lowland gorilla sequence in the chimpanzee clade. These new findings have a number of implication for understanding the origins and epidemiology of HBV infection in non-human primates.