The origin and evolution of the unique HCV circulating recombinant form 2k/1b

Raghwani J, Thomas XV, Koekkoek SM, Schinkel J, Molenkamp R, van de Laar TJ, Takebe Y, Tanaka Y, Mizokami M, Rambaut A & Pybus OG

(2012) J Virol 86, 2212-2220.

Since its initial identification in St Petersburg, Russia, the recombinant hepatitis C virus (HCV) 2k/1b has been isolated from several countries throughout Eurasia. The 2k/1b strain is the only recombinant HCV to have spread widely, raising questions about the epidemiological background in which it first appeared. In order to further understand the circumstances by which HCV recombinants might be formed and spread, we estimated the date of the recombination event that generated the 2k/1b strain using a Bayesian phylogenetic approach. Our study incorporates newly-isolated 2k/1b strains from Amsterdam and has employed a hierarchical Bayesian framework to combine information from different genomic regions. We estimate that 2k/1b originated sometime between 1923 and 1956, substantially before the first detection of the strain in 1999. The timescale and the geographic spread of 2k/1b suggests it originated in the former Soviet Union around the time that the world?s first centralized national blood transfusion and storage service was being established. We also reconstructed the epidemic history of 2k/1b using coalescent theory based methods, matching patterns previously reported for other epidemic HCV subtypes. This study demonstrates the practicality of jointly estimating dates of recombination from flanking regions of the breakpoint, and further illustrates that rare genetic exchange events can be particularly informative about the underlying epidemiological processes.

Andrew Rambaut, 2007