Rotavirus positive samples collected in Palermo, Italy, during 2002-2004 did not react with the G2 type-specific RV5:3 monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) and could be identified as G2 only by RT-PCR genotyping. The genetic variation of VP7 and VP4 antigenic proteins was studied in 14 G2 samples including a selection of both those successfully characterized by serotyping and those failing to be serotyped. The phylogenetic analysis performed on partial VP7 sequences showed a temporal clustering of these strains, with those isolated in Palermo in 2003 belonging to the same lineage of G2 MAbs-unreactive strains identified in UK in 1996-1997 and in Bari, Italy, in 2003-2004. A single amino acid substitution in VP7 antigenic region A, at position 96 (Asp-->Asn), was consistently associated with the loss of antigenic reactivity. Five of the G2 strains were further characterized by sequencing of VP4-encoding genes as belonging to the P type, and separate lineages clustering the strains according to a temporal distribution could be described. VP7 and VP4 antigenic proteins analysis provided evidence that over the last 11 years, at least two different populations of G2P rotavirus strains have been infecting the infant population in Palermo. Considering the role of anti-VP7 and anti-VP4 neutralizing antibodies in rotavirus immunity, the emergence of new VP7-VP4 gene combinations might influence rotavirus circulation in the infant population and should be taken into consideration when devising vaccination strategies.
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