Static and Evolving Norovirus Genotypes: Implications for Epidemiology and Immunity

PLoS Pathog. 2017 Jan 19;13(1):e1006136. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1006136. eCollection 2017 Jan.


Noroviruses are major pathogens associated with acute gastroenteritis worldwide. Their RNA genomes are diverse, with two major genogroups (GI and GII) comprised of at least 28 genotypes associated with human disease. To elucidate mechanisms underlying norovirus diversity and evolution, we used a large-scale genomics approach to analyze human norovirus sequences. Comparison of over 2000 nearly full-length ORF2 sequences representing most of the known GI and GII genotypes infecting humans showed a limited number (≤5) of distinct intra-genotypic variants within each genotype, with the exception of GII.4. The non-GII.4 genotypes were comprised of one or more intra-genotypic variants, with each variant containing strains that differed by only a few residues over several decades (remaining "static") and that have co-circulated with no clear epidemiologic pattern. In contrast, the GII.4 genotype presented the largest number of variants (>10) that have evolved over time with a clear pattern of periodic variant replacement. To expand our understanding of these two patterns of diversification ("static" versus "evolving"), we analyzed using NGS the nearly full-length norovirus genome in healthy individuals infected with GII.4, GII.6 or GII.17 viruses in different outbreak settings. The GII.4 viruses accumulated mutations rapidly within and between hosts, while the GII.6 and GII.17 viruses remained relatively stable, consistent with their diversification patterns. Further analysis of genetic relationships and natural history patterns identified groupings of certain genotypes into larger related clusters designated here as "immunotypes". We propose that "immunotypes" and their evolutionary patterns influence the prevalence of a particular norovirus genotype in the human population.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Caliciviridae Infections / epidemiology*
  • Caliciviridae Infections / genetics*
  • Caliciviridae Infections / immunology*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genomics
  • Genotype
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing
  • Humans
  • Molecular Epidemiology
  • Norovirus / genetics*

Grant support

This work was funded by the Division of Intramural Research, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIH, DHHS. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.