Assessing host-virus codivergence for close relatives of Merkel cell polyomavirus infecting African great apes

Nadège F. Madinda, Bernhard Ehlers, Joel O. Wertheim, Chantal Akoua-Koffi, Richard A. Bergl, Christophe Boesch, Dieudonné Boji Mungu Akonkwa, Winnie Eckardt, Barbara Fruth, Thomas R. Gillespie, Maryke Gray, Gottfried Hohmann, Stomy Karhemere, Deo Kujirakwinja, Kevin Langergraber, Jean Jacques Muyembe, Radar Nishuli, Maude Pauly, Klara J. Petrzelkova, Martha M. RobbinsAngelique Todd, Grit Schubert, Tara S. Stoinski, Roman M. Wittig, Klaus Zuberbühler, Martine Peeters, Fabian H. Leendertz, Sébastien Calvignac-Spencer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


It has long been hypothesized that polyomaviruses (PyV; family Polyomaviridae) codiverged with their animal hosts. In contrast, recent analyses suggested that codivergence may only marginally influence the evolution of PyV. We reassess this question by focusing on a single lineage of PyV infecting hominine hosts, the Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCPyV) lineage. By characterizing the genetic diversity of these viruses in seven African great ape taxa, we show that they exhibit very strong host specificity. Reconciliation analyses identify more codivergence than noncodivergence events. In addition, we find that a number of host and PyV divergence events are synchronous. Collectively, our results support codivergence as the dominant process at play during the evolution of the MCPyV lineage. More generally, our results add to the growing body of evidence suggesting an ancient and stable association of PyV and their animal hosts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8531-8541
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Virology
Issue number19
Early online date12 Sept 2016
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2016


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