Polymorphism and evolution of influenza A virus genes

Mol Biol Evol. 1986 Jan;3(1):57-74. doi: 10.1093/oxfordjournals.molbev.a040381.


The nucleotide sequences of four genes of the influenza A virus (nonstructural protein, matrix protein, and a few subtypes of hemagglutinin and neuraminidase) are compiled for a large number of strains isolated from various locations and years, and the evolutionary relationship of the sequences is investigated. It is shown that all of these genes or subtypes are highly polymorphic and that the polymorphic sequences (alleles) are subject to rapid turnover in the population, their average age being much less than that of higher organisms. Phylogenetic analysis suggests that most polymorphic sequences within a subtype or a gene appeared during the last 80 years and that the divergence among the subtypes of hemagglutinin genes might have occurred during the last 300 years. The high degree of polymorphism in this RNA virus is caused by an extremely high rate of mutation, estimated to be 0.01/nucleotide site/year. Despite the high rate of mutation, most influenza virus genes are apparently subject to purifying selection, and the rate of nucleotide substitution is substantially lower than the mutation rate. There is considerable variation in the substitution rate among different genes, and the rate seems to be lower in nonhuman viral strains than in human strains. The difference might be responsible for the so-called freezing effect in some viral strains.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Biological Evolution
  • Genes, Viral*
  • Hemagglutinins, Viral / genetics
  • Influenza A virus / genetics*
  • Neuraminidase / genetics
  • Phylogeny
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • RNA, Viral / genetics
  • Viral Matrix Proteins / genetics
  • Viral Proteins / genetics


  • Hemagglutinins, Viral
  • RNA, Viral
  • Viral Matrix Proteins
  • Viral Proteins
  • Neuraminidase