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Background: Influenza neuraminidase (NA) is an important surface glycoprotein and plays a vital role in viral replication and drug development. The NA is found in influenza A and B viruses, with nine subtypes classified in influenza A. The complete knowledge of influenza NA evolutionary history and phylodynamics, although critical for the prevention and control of influenza epidemics and pandemics, remains lacking.

Methodology/Principal findings: Evolutionary and phylogenetic analyses of influenza NA sequences using Maximum Likelihood and Bayesian MCMC methods demonstrated that the divergence of influenza viruses into types A and B occurred earlier than the divergence of influenza A NA subtypes. Twenty-three lineages were identified within influenza A, two lineages were classified within influenza B, and most lineages were specific to host, subtype or geographical location. Interestingly, evolutionary rates vary not only among lineages but also among branches within lineages. The estimated tMRCAs of influenza lineages suggest that the viruses of different lineages emerge several months or even years before their initial detection. The dN/dS ratios ranged from 0.062 to 0.313 for influenza A lineages, and 0.257 to 0.259 for influenza B lineages. Structural analyses revealed that all positively selected sites are at the surface of the NA protein, with a number of sites found to be important for host antibody and drug binding.

Conclusions/Significance: The divergence into influenza type A and B from a putative ancestral NA was followed by the divergence of type A into nine NA subtypes, of which 23 lineages subsequently diverged. This study provides a better understanding of influenza NA lineages and their evolutionary dynamics, which may facilitate early detection of newly emerging influenza viruses and thus improve influenza surveillance.


© 2012 Xu et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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