1887

Abstract

The polymerase (P) and surface (S) genes of hepatitis B virus (HBV) show the longest gene overlap in animal viruses. Gene overlaps originate by the overprinting of a novel frame onto an ancestral pre-existing frame. Identifying which frame is ancestral and which frame is (the genealogy of the overlap) is an appealing topic. However, the P/S overlap of HBV is an intriguing paradox, because both genes are indispensable for virus survival. Thus, the hypothesis of a primordial virus without the surface protein or without the polymerase makes no biological sense. With the aim to determine the genealogy of the overlap, the codon usage of the overlapping frames P and S was compared to that of the non-overlapping region. It was found that the overlap of human HBV had two patterns of codon usage. One was localized in the 5′ one-third of the overlap and the other in the 3′ two-thirds. By extending the analysis to non-human HBVs, it was found that this feature occurred in all hepadnaviruses. Under the assumption that the ancestral frame has a codon usage significantly closer to that of the non-overlapping region than the frame, the ancestral frames in the 5′ and 3′ region of the overlap could be predicted. They were, respectively, frame S and frame P. These results suggest that the spacer domain of the polymerase and the S domain of the surface protein originated by overprinting. They support a modular evolution hypothesis for the origin of the overlap.

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2015-12-01
2020-01-27
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