The eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) complex consists of four distinct genetic lineages: one that circulates in North America (NA EEEV) and the Caribbean and three that circulate in Central and South America (SA EEEV). Differences in their geographic, pathogenic, and epidemiologic profiles prompted evaluation of their genetic diversity and evolutionary histories. The structural polyprotein open reading frames of all available SA EEEV and recent NA EEEV isolates were sequenced and used in evolutionary and phylogenetic analyses. The nucleotide substitution rate per year for SA EEEV (1.2 x 10 -4) was lower and more consistent than that for NA EEEV (2.7 x 10-4), which exhibited considerable rate variation among constituent clades. Estimates of time since divergence varied widely depending upon the sequences used, with NA and SA EEEV diverging ca. 922 to 4,856 years ago and the two main SA EEEV lineages diverging ca. 577 to 2,927 years ago. The single, monophyletic NA EEEV lineage exhibited mainly temporally associated relationships and was highly conserved throughout its geographic range. In contrast, SA EEEV comprised three divergent lineages, two consisting of highly conserved geographic groupings that completely lacked temporal associations. A phylogenetic comparison of SA EEEV and Venezuelan equine encephalitis viruses (VEEV) demonstrated similar genetic and evolutionary patterns, consistent with the well-documented use of mammalian reservoir hosts by VEEV. Our results emphasize the evolutionary and genetic divergences between members of the NA and SA EEEV lineages, consistent with major differences in pathogenicity and ecology, and propose that NA and SA EEEV be reclassified as distinct species in the EEE complex.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Insect Science