Genetic variability and phylogenetic analysis of Lagovirus europaeus strains GI.1 (RHDV) and GI.2 (RHDV2) based on the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) coding gene

  • Beata Hukowska-Szematowicz Institute of Biology, University of Szczecin, Szczecin, Poland; Molecular Biology and Biotechnology Center, University of Szczecin, Szczecin, Poland


Lagovirus europaeus GI.1 (RHDV-rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus) and GI.2 (RHDV2-rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus 2), family Caliciviridae, genus Lagovirus, are etiological factors of the rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD). This small RNA virus is a great model for tracking the variability and evolution of RNA viruses, because it uses an RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) to replicate its own genetic material. This polymerase determines the fidelity and the rates of replication and mutation of the virus, conditioning its adaptation to the environment and even to a new host, and thus influencing evolution of the virus. The aim of this study was to determine the genetic variability and phylogenetic relationships of 105 Lagovirus europaeus strains with different genotypes based on the RdRp gene. The strains came from around the world in the years of 1987–2017. The aforementioned group of 105 strains included 14 strains whose RdRp sequences were obtained and analysed in this study, and the rest were retrieved from GenBank: 74 strains classified as genotype GI.1 (RHDV), 14 as GI.2 (RHDV2), 2 strains of Lagovirus europaeus not assigned to any genotype, and a MRCV strain, the sequences of which were collected from GenBank. Among the 14 strains whose RdRp sequences were obtained in this study, the highest variability was presented in the Austrian 237 strain from 2004. The genetic distance between the Austrian 237 strain and the remaining thirteen analysed strains ranged from 0.117 to 0.123 (from 11.7% to 12.3% nucleotide substitutions). The lowest variability, however, was recorded for Hungarian, Czech and Austrian strains. On the phylogenetic tree, the 14 analysed strains were allocated into GI.1c (G2), GI.1d (G3-G5) and GI.1a (RHDVa). Analysis of the genetic variability of the 105 strains of Lagovirus europaeus indicated a growing genetic distance between the strains, both in time and location. Phylogenetic analysis showed a division of the strains into seven groups, dictated by the chronology, geographical location and evolutionary events in the history of the virus, such as mutations and recombinations.