The evolutionary and epidemiological dynamics of the Paramyxoviridae

Pomeroy, L.W., Bjornstad, O.N. and Holmes, E.C. 2008. The evolutionary and epidemiological dynamics of the Paramyxoviridae.

Journal of Molecular Evolution 66:98-106


Paramyxoviruses are responsible for considerable disease burden in human and wildlife populations: measles and mumps continue to affect the health of children worldwide while canine distemper virus causes serious morbidity and mortality in a wide range of mammalian hosts. Although these viruses have been studied extensively on both the epidemiological and phylogenetic scales, little has been done to integrate these two types of data. Using a Bayesian coalescent approach, we infer the evolutionary and epidemiological dynamics of measles, mumps and canine distemper viruses. Our coalescent analysis yielded data on viral substitution rates, the age of common ancestry and elements of their demographic histories. Rates of nucleotide substitution were similar to those observed in other RNA viruses, ranging from 6.585 x 10–4 to 11.350 x 10–4 substitutions per site, per year. Strikingly, the age of the Most Recent Common Ancestor (MRCA) was both similar and very recent among the viruses studied, ranging from only 58 to 91 years (1908 to 1943). Worldwide, the paramyxoviruses viruses studied here have maintained a relatively constant level of genetic diversity. However, detailed heterchronous samples illustrate more complex dynamics in some epidemic populations, and the relatively low levels of genetic diversity (population size) in all three viruses are indicative of regular population bottlenecks.

Key words: paramyxovirus, coalescent, population bottleneck, measles virus, mumps virus, canine distemper virus