Coexistence in field samples of two variants of the infectious salmon anemia virus: A putative shift to pathogenicity
Genetic reassortment plays an important role in the evolution of several segmented RNA viruses and in the epidemiology of their associated diseases. In particular, orthomyxoviruses show rapid fluctuation in the proportion of viral variants coexisting in an infected individual, especially under strong selective pressure. This is particularly relevant in salmon production carried out under confined and stressful conditions where one of the most feared pathogenic agents is the Infectious Salmon Anemia Virus, an orthomyxovirus family member whose biological behavior is only recently beginning to be understood. Pathogenicity of the virus has been mainly associated with deletions of the HPR region in coding segment 6 and the presence or absence of a specific insertion in a key region in coding segment 5. In this study we report, for the first time in Chile, the coexistence of two variants in fully asymptomatic fish. Of five samples analyzed, two were identified as the nonpathogenic variant, HPR0, and two as the highly pathogenic HPR7b variant, though with no clinical signs detectable in the fish. Interestingly, one of the samples unequivocally carried both variants, again without any clinical signs. Considering that in none of the samples the typical insertion in coding segment 5 was detected, it is our impression that this may represent a shift from the non-pathogenic HPR0 variant towards the highly infective HPR7b variant. If this were the case, the transition may be triggered first by deleting the corresponding sequence of the HPR region of segment 6, followed by the putative insertion in segment 5 to generate a virulent strain.