Intrahost selection pressure drives equine arteritis virus evolution during persistent infection in the stallion reproductive tract

Bora Nam, Zelalem Mekuria, Mariano Carossino, Ganwu Li, Ying Zheng, Jianqiang Zhang, R. Frank Cook, Kathleen M. Shuck, Juliana R. Campos, Edward L. Squires, Mats H.T. Troedsson, Peter J. Timoney, Udeni B.R. Balasuriya

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Equine arteritis virus (EAV) is the causative agent of equine viral arteritis (EVA), a reproductive and respiratory disease of horses. Following natural infection, 10 to 70% of infected stallions can become carriers of EAV and continue to shed virus in the semen. In this study, sequential viruses isolated from nasal secretions, buffy coat cells, and semen of seven experimentally infected and two naturally infected EAV carrier stallions were deep sequenced to elucidate the intrahost microevolutionary process after a single transmission event. Analysis of variants from nasal secretions and buffy coat cells lacked extensive positive selection; however, characteristics of the mutant spectra were different in the two sample types. In contrast, the initial semen virus populations during acute infection have undergone a selective bottleneck, as reflected by the reduction in population size and diversifying selection at multiple sites in the viral genome. Furthermore, during persistent infection, extensive genome-wide purifying selection shaped variant diversity in the stallion reproductive tract. Overall, the nonstochastic nature of EAV evolution during persistent infection was driven by active intrahost selection pressure. Among the open reading frames within the viral genome, ORF3, ORF5, and the nsp2-coding region of ORF1a accumulated the majority of nucleotide substitutions during persistence, with ORF3 and ORF5 having the highest intrahost evolutionary rates. The findings presented here provide a novel insight into the evolutionary mechanisms of EAV and identified critical regions of the viral genome likely associated with the establishment and maintenance of persistent infection in the stallion reproductive tract. IMPORTANCE EAV can persist in the reproductive tract of infected stallions, and consequently, long-term carrier stallions constitute its sole natural reservoir. Previous studies demonstrated that the ampullae of the vas deferens are the primary site of viral persistence in the stallion reproductive tract and the persistence is associated with a significant inflammatory response that is unable to clear the infection. This is the first study that describes EAV full-length genomic evolution during acute and long-term persistent infection in the stallion reproductive tract using next-generation sequencing and contemporary sequence analysis techniques. The data provide novel insight into the intrahost evolution of EAV during acute and persistent infection and demonstrate that persistent infection is characterized by extensive genome-wide purifying selection and a nonstochastic evolutionary pattern mediated by intrahost selective pressure, with important nucleotide substitutions occurring in ORF1a (region encoding nsp2), ORF3, and ORF5.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0004519
JournalJournal of Virology
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 American Society for Microbiology. All Rights Reserved.


  • EAV
  • EVA
  • Equine arteritis virus
  • Equine viral arteritis
  • Genetic bottleneck
  • Molecular epidemiology
  • Persistent infection
  • Phylogeny
  • Quasispecies
  • Virus evolution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology


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