Evolution of Human Polyomavirus JC: Implications for the Population History of Humans

J Mol Evol. 2002 Mar;54(3):285-97. doi: 10.1007/s00239-001-0009-x.


The polyomavirus JC virus (JCV), the etiological agent of progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy, is ubiquitous in the human population, infecting children asymptomatically, then persisting in the kidney. The main mode of transmission of JCV is from parents to children through long-term cohabitation. Twelve JCV subtypes that occupy unique domains in Europe, Africa, and Asia have been identified. Here, we attempted to elucidate the evolutionary relationships among JCV strains worldwide using the whole-genome approach with which a highly reliable phylogeny of JCV strains can be reconstructed. Sixty-five complete JCV DNA sequences, derived from various geographical regions and belonging to 11 of the 12 known subtypes, were subjected to phylogenetic analysis using three independent methods: the neighbor-joining, maximum parsimony, and maximum likelihood methods. The trees obtained with these methods consistently indicated that ancestral JCVs were divided into three superclusters, designated as Types A, B, and C. A split in Type A generated two subtypes, EU-a and -b, mainly containing European and Mediterranean strains. The first split in Type B generated Af2 (the major African subtype). Subsequent splits in Type B generated B1-c (a minor European subtype) and all seven Asian subtypes (B1-a, -b, -d, B2, MY, CY, and SC). Type C generated a single subtype (Af1), consisting of strains derived from western Africa. While the present findings provided a basis on which to classify JCV into types or subtypes, they have several implications for the divergence and migration of human populations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Base Sequence
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genetics, Population*
  • Humans
  • JC Virus / genetics*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Phylogeny*
  • Sequence Alignment