With the recent discovery of genetically distinct hantaviruses (family Hantaviridae) in shrews (order Eulipotyphla, family Soricidae), the once-conventional view that rodents (order Rodentia) served as the primordial reservoir hosts now appears improbable. The newly identified soricid-borne hantaviruses generally demonstrate well-resolved lineages organized according to host taxa and geographic origin. However, beginning in 2007, we detected sequences that did not conform to the prototypic hantaviruses associated with their soricid host species and/or geographic locations. That is, Eurasian common shrews (Sorexaraneus), captured in Hungary and Russia, were found to harbor hantaviruses belonging to two separate and highly divergent lineages. We have since accumulated additional examples of these highly distinctive hantavirus sequences in the Laxmann's shrew (Sorexcaecutiens), flat-skulled shrew (Sorexroboratus) and Eurasian least shrew (Sorexminutissimus), captured at the same time and in the same location in the Sakha Republic in Far Eastern Russia. Pair-wise alignment and phylogenetic analysis of partial and full-length S-, M- and/or L-segment sequences indicate that a distinct hantavirus species related to Altai virus (ALTV), first reported in a Eurasian common shrew from Western Siberia, was being maintained in these closely related syntopic soricine shrew species. These findings suggest that genetic variants of ALTV might have resulted from ancient host-switching events with subsequent diversification within the Soricini tribe in Eurasia.
Keywords: Hantaviridae; hantavirus; shrew; viral evolution.