Avian hepatitis E virus (avian HEV), recently identified from a chicken with hepatitis-splenomegaly syndrome in the United States, is genetically and antigenically related to human and swine HEVs. In this study, sequencing of the genome was completed and an attempt was made to infect rhesus monkeys with avian HEV. The full-length genome of avian HEV, excluding the poly(A) tail, is 6654 bp in length, which is about 600 bp shorter than that of human and swine HEVs. Similar to human and swine HEV genomes, the avian HEV genome consists of a short 5′ non-coding region (NCR) followed by three partially overlapping open reading frames (ORFs) and a 3′ NCR. Avian H EV shares about 50 % nucleotide sequence identity over the complete genome, 48-51% identity in ORF1, 46-48% identity in ORF2 and only 29-34% identity in ORF3 with human and swine HEV strains. Significant genetic variations such as deletions and insertions, particularly in ORF1 of avian HEV, were observed. However, motifs in the putative functional domains of ORF1, such as the helicase and methyltransferase, were relatively conserved between avian HEV and mammalian HEVs, supporting the conclusion that avian HEV is a member of the genus Hepevirus. Phylogenetic analysis revealed that avian HEV represents a branch distinct from human and swine HEVs. Swine HEV infects non-human primates and possibly humans and thus may be zoonotic. An attempt was made to determine whether avian HEV also infects across species by experimentally inoculating two rhesus monkeys with avian HEV. Evidence of virus infection was not observed in the inoculated monkeys as there was no seroconversion, viraemia, faecal virus shedding or serum liver enzyme elevation. The results from this study confirmed that avian HEV is related to, but distinct from, human and swine HEVs; however, unlike swine HEV, avian HEV is probably not transmissible to non-human primates.
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