The putative attachment protein of the avian pneumovirus that causes turkey rhinotracheitis is, by analogy with mammalian pneumoviruses, expected to be the major antigenic determinant. We report the nucleotide sequence of the attachment (G) protein genes of five different continental European isolates and compare them with the previously published sequence of the G gene for the focal variant of a U.K. isolate. The nucleotide sequences and the predicted amino acid sequences indicate that there are at least two distinct subgroups, similar to the grouping described for human respiratory syncytial (RS) virus. The U.K. and French isolates form one group and the isolates from Spain, Italy and Hungary form a second. The two subgroups can be easily distinguished on the basis of restriction enzyme digestion of PCR-generated products representing the full-length gene. Within the subgroups the predicted G proteins were highly conserved (98.5 to 99.7% amino acid identity) compared to the levels of identity of RS virus G proteins in the same subgroup (80 to 95%). Between the avian pneumovirus subgroups described here there was an unexpected degree of divergence, the average amino acid identity between members of the two groups being only 38%. This compares with the 53% conservation seen between members of the RS virus subgroups A and B. Comparison of the predicted amino acid sequences showed that the G proteins of members of the two avian pneumovirus subgroups had similar structural features. All proteins had an amino-terminal membrane anchor and the positions of cysteine residues were highly conserved. The potential importance of the high level of variation between the two subgroups in terms of epidemiology of the disease is discussed.


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