Human Adenovirus Type 4 Comprises Two Major Phylogroups with Distinct Replicative Fitness and Virulence Phenotypes

J Virol. 2022 Mar 9;96(5):e0109021. doi: 10.1128/JVI.01090-21. Epub 2021 Jul 7.


Human adenovirus type 4 (HAdV-E4) is the only type (and serotype) classified at present within species Human mastadenovirus E that has been isolated from a human host. Recent phylogenetic analysis of whole-genome sequences of strains representing the spectrum of intratypic genetic diversity described to date identified two major evolutionary lineages designated phylogroups (PGs) I and II and validated the early clustering of HAdV-E4 genomic variants into two major groups by low-resolution restriction fragment length polymorphism analysis. In this study, we expanded our original analysis of intra- and inter-PG genetic variability and used a panel of viruses representative of the spectrum of genetic diversity described for HAdV-E4 to examine the magnitude of inter- and intra-PG phenotypic diversity using an array of cell-based assays and a cotton rat model of HAdV respiratory infection. Our proteotyping of HAdV-E strains using concatenated protein sequences in selected coding regions including E1A, E1B-19K and -55K, DNA polymerase, L4-100K, various E3 proteins, and E4-34K confirmed that the two clades encode distinct variants/proteotypes at most of these loci. Our in vitro and in vivo studies demonstrated that PG I and PG II differ in their growth, spread, and cell-killing phenotypes in cell culture and in their pulmonary pathogenic phenotypes. Surprisingly, the differences in replicative fitness documented in vitro between PGs did not correlate with the differences in virulence observed in the cotton rat model. This body of work is the first reporting phenotypic correlates of naturally occurring intratypic genetic variability for HAdV-E4. IMPORTANCE Human adenovirus type 4 (HAdV-E4) is a prevalent causative agent of acute respiratory illness of variable severity and of conjunctivitis and comprises two major phylogroups that carry distinct coding variations in proteins involved in viral replication and modulation of host responses to infection. Our data show that phylogroup (PG) I and PG II are intrinsically different regarding their ability to grow and spread in culture and to cause pulmonary disease in cotton rats. This is the first report of phenotypic divergence among naturally occurring known genetic variants of an HAdV type of medical importance. This research reveals readily detectable phenotypic differences between strains representing phylogroups I and II, and it introduces a unique experimental system for the elucidation of the genetic basis of adenovirus fitness and virulence and thus for increasing our understanding of the implications of intratypic genetic diversity in the presentation and course of HAdV-E4-associated disease.

Keywords: fitness; human adenovirus 4; phylogroup; virulence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenovirus Infections, Human* / virology
  • Adenoviruses, Human* / classification
  • Adenoviruses, Human* / genetics
  • Adenoviruses, Human* / pathogenicity
  • Genetic Variation
  • Genome, Viral / genetics
  • Humans
  • Phenotype
  • Phylogeny
  • Virulence* / genetics
  • Virus Replication* / genetics