Hepatitis C virus (HCV) and human pegivirus (HPgV or GB virus C) are globally distributed and infect 2 to 5% of the human population. The lack of tractable-animal models for these viruses, in particular for HCV, has hampered the study of infection, transmission, virulence, immunity, and pathogenesis. To address this challenge, we searched for homologous viruses in small mammals, including wild rodents. Here we report the discovery of several new hepaciviruses (HCV-like viruses) and pegiviruses (GB virus-like viruses) that infect wild rodents. Complete genome sequences were acquired for a rodent hepacivirus (RHV) found in Peromyscus maniculatus and a rodent pegivirus (RPgV) found in Neotoma albigula. Unique genomic features and phylogenetic analyses confirmed that these RHV and RPgV variants represent several novel virus species in the Hepacivirus and Pegivirus genera within the family Flaviviridae. The genetic diversity of the rodent hepaciviruses exceeded that observed for hepaciviruses infecting either humans or non-primates, leading to new insights into the origin, evolution, and host range of hepaciviruses. The presence of genes, encoded proteins, and translation elements homologous to those found in human hepaciviruses and pegiviruses suggests the potential for the development of new animal systems with which to model HCV pathogenesis, vaccine design, and treatment.
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