Phylogenetic Assessment Reveals Continuous Evolution and Circulation of Pigeon-Derived Virulent Avian Avulaviruses 1 in Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa

BMC Vet Res. 2017 Sep 26;13(1):291. doi: 10.1186/s12917-017-1211-4.


Background: The remarkable diversity and mobility of Newcastle disease viruses (NDV) includes virulent viruses of genotype VI. These viruses are often referred to as pigeon paramyxoviruses 1 because they are normally isolated and cause clinical disease in birds from the Columbidae family. Genotype VI viruses occasionally infect, and may also cause clinical disease in poultry. Thus, the evolution, current spread and detection of these viruses are relevant to avian health.

Results: Here, we describe the isolation and genomic characterization of six Egyptian (2015), four Pakistani (2015), and two Ukrainian (2007, 2013) recent pigeon-derived NDV isolates of sub-genotype VIg. These viruses are closely related to isolates from Kazakhstan, Nigeria and Russia. In addition, eight genetically related NDV isolates from Pakistan (2014-2016) that define a new sub-genotype (VIm) are described. All of these viruses, and the ancestral Bulgarian (n = 2) and South Korean (n = 2) viruses described here, have predicted virulent cleavage sites of the fusion protein, and those selected for further characterization have intracerebral pathogenicity index assay values characteristic of NDV of genotype VI (1.31 to 1.48). A validated matrix gene real-time RT-PCR (rRT-PCR) NDV test detect all tested isolates. However, the validated rRT-PCR test that is normally used to identify the virulent fusion gene fails to detect the Egyptian and Ukrainian viruses due to mismatches in primers and probe. A new rapid rRT-PCR test to determine the presence of virulent cleavage sites for viruses from sub-genotypes VIg was developed and evaluated on these and other viruses.

Conclusions: We describe the almost simultaneous circulation and continuous evolution of genotype VI Newcastle disease viruses in distant locations, suggesting epidemiological connections among three continents. As pigeons are not migratory, this study suggests the need to understand the possible role of human activity in the dispersal of these viruses. Complete genomic characterization identified previously unrecognized genetic diversity that contributes to diagnostic failure and will facilitate future evolutionary studies. These results highlight the importance of conducting active surveillance on pigeons worldwide and the need to update existent rapid diagnostic protocols to detect emerging viral variants and help manage the disease in affected regions.

Keywords: Evolution; Genotype VI; Mismatches; NDV; Newcastle disease virus; Next-generation sequencing; Pigeons; rRT-PCR.

MeSH terms

  • Africa
  • Animals
  • Asia
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Columbidae / virology*
  • Europe, Eastern
  • Genome, Viral
  • Genotype
  • Newcastle disease virus / classification
  • Newcastle disease virus / genetics*
  • Newcastle disease virus / isolation & purification*
  • Newcastle disease virus / pathogenicity
  • Phylogeny
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction / veterinary
  • Viral Fusion Proteins / genetics
  • Virulence
  • Whole Genome Sequencing


  • Viral Fusion Proteins