Significant variation was found, between 46 isolates of hepatitis G virus (HGV), following direct sequencing of subgenomic PCR fragments from either or both the NS-3 and putative 'core' peptide. Nucleotide sequences of most HGV NS-3 fragments varied by 10-30% and of most putative 'core' peptide fragments by 2-20%. HGV was therefore shown to be much less variable than hepatitis C virus (HCV) and pairwise comparisons of HGV sequences demonstrated a single distinct distribution of evolutionary distances. Construction of phylogenetic trees, bootstrap analysis and calculation of mean distances between possible subtypes also indicated one level of variation between HGV NS-3 and putative 'core' peptide sequences, and the suggested degree of variation between isolates was similar to that between HCV subtypes. No evidence for clustering of sequences into multiple subtypes or genotypes was found. Although very small subgenomic fragments of HCV are indicative of the viral genotype it seems that the assignment of genetic groups is not possible for HGV using such small subgenomic fragments. The relatively limited genetic variation observed in HGV may reflect a relatively low level of host selection pressure stemming from the low level of host immunity stimulated by this virus.


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