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Ancient papillomavirus-host co-speciation in Felidae

Annabel Rector1, Philippe Lemey12, Ruth Tachezy3, Sara Mostmans1, Shin-Je Ghim4, Koenraad Van Doorslaer15, Melody Roelke6, Mitchell Bush7, Richard J Montali8, Janis Joslin9, Robert D Burk5, Alfred B Jenson4, John P Sundberg10, Beth Shapiro2 and Marc Van Ranst1*

Author Affiliations

1 Laboratory of Clinical & Epidemiological Virology, Rega Institute for Medical Research, University of Leuven, Minderbroedersstraat, B3000 Leuven, Belgium

2 Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PS, UK

3 Department of Experimental Virology, Institute of Hematology and Blood Transfusion, U Nemocnice, 128 22 Prague, Czech Republic

4 The Brown Cancer Center, University of Louisville, South Jackson Street, Louisville, KY 40202, USA

5 Department of Epidemiology and Social Medicine, Comprehensive Cancer Center, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Morris Park Avenue, Bronx, NY 10461, USA

6 Basic Research Program-SAIC Frederick-National Cancer Institute, Building 560, Frederick, MD 21702-1201, USA

7 National Zoological Park, Smithsonian Conservation and Research Center, Remount Road, Front Royal, VA 22630, USA

8 East Wakefield Drive, Alexandria, Virginia 22307, USA

9 Phoenix Zoo, Galvin Parkway, Phoenix, AZ 85008, USA

10 The Jackson Laboratory, Main Street, Bar Harbor, MA 04609-1500, USA

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Genome Biology 2007, 8:R57  doi:10.1186/gb-2007-8-4-r57

Published: 12 April 2007



Estimating evolutionary rates for slowly evolving viruses such as papillomaviruses (PVs) is not possible using fossil calibrations directly or sequences sampled over a time-scale of decades. An ability to correlate their divergence with a host species, however, can provide a means to estimate evolutionary rates for these viruses accurately. To determine whether such an approach is feasible, we sequenced complete feline PV genomes, previously available only for the domestic cat (Felis domesticus, FdPV1), from four additional, globally distributed feline species: Lynx rufus PV type 1, Puma concolor PV type 1, Panthera leo persica PV type 1, and Uncia uncia PV type 1.


The feline PVs all belong to the Lambdapapillomavirus genus, and contain an unusual second noncoding region between the early and late protein region, which is only present in members of this genus. Our maximum likelihood and Bayesian phylogenetic analyses demonstrate that the evolutionary relationships between feline PVs perfectly mirror those of their feline hosts, despite a complex and dynamic phylogeographic history. By applying host species divergence times, we provide the first precise estimates for the rate of evolution for each PV gene, with an overall evolutionary rate of 1.95 × 10-8 (95% confidence interval 1.32 × 10-8 to 2.47 × 10-8) nucleotide substitutions per site per year for the viral coding genome.


Our work provides evidence for long-term virus-host co-speciation of feline PVs, indicating that viral diversity in slowly evolving viruses can be used to investigate host species evolution. These findings, however, should not be extrapolated to other viral lineages without prior confirmation of virus-host co-divergence.