St. Louis encephalitis virus (SLEV) has been regularly isolated throughout the Americas since 1933. Previous phylogenetic studies involving 62 isolates have defined seven major lineages (I-VII), further divided into 14 clades. In this study, 28 strains isolated in Texas in 1991 and 2001-2003, and three older, previously unsequenced strains from Jamaica and California were sequenced over the envelope protein gene. The inclusion of these new sequences, and others published since 2001, has allowed better delineation of the previously published SLEV lineages, in particular the clades of lineage II. Phylogenetic analysis of 106 isolates identified 13 clades. All 1991 and 2001-2003 isolates from Nueces, Jefferson and Harris Counties (Texas Gulf Coast) group in clade IIB with other isolates from these counties isolated during the 1980s and 1990s. This lack of evidence for introduction of novel strains into the Texas Gulf Coast over a long period of time is consistent with overwintering of SLEV in this region. Two El Paso isolates, both from 2002, group in clade VA with recent Californian isolates from 1998-2001 and some South American strains with a broad temporal range. Overall, these data are consistent with multiple introductions of SLEV from South America into North America, and provide-support for the hypothesis that in most situations, SLEV circulates within a locality, with occasional incursions from other areas. Finally, SLEV has much lower nucleotide (10.1%) and amino acid variation (2.8%) than other members of the Japanese encephalitis virus complex (maximum variation 24.6% nucleotide and 11.8% amino acid).
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