BACKGROUND - Human metapneumovirus (HMPV) is an important cause of acute respiratory illness in children. We examined the diversity and molecular evolution of HMPV using 85 full-length F (fusion) gene sequences collected over a 20-year period.
RESULTS - The F gene sequences fell into two major groups, each with two subgroups, which exhibited a mean of 96% identity by predicted amino acid sequences. Amino acid identity within and between subgroups was higher than nucleotide identity, suggesting structural or functional constraints on F protein diversity. There was minimal progressive drift over time, and the genetic lineages were stable over the 20-year period. Several canonical amino acid differences discriminated between major subgroups, and polymorphic variations tended to cluster in discrete regions. The estimated rate of mutation was 7.12 x 10(-4) substitutions/site/year and the estimated time to most recent common HMPV ancestor was 97 years (95% likelihood range 66-194 years). Analysis suggested that HMPV diverged from avian metapneumovirus type C (AMPV-C) 269 years ago (95% likelihood range 106-382 years).
CONCLUSION - HMPV F protein remains conserved over decades. HMPV appears to have diverged from AMPV-C fairly recently.