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Infection with hepatitis B virus (HBV) was detected by serological testing for HBV surface antigen and by PCR assay for HBV DNA in serum samples from two common chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes subsp. verus) born in West Africa. The complete genome sequences obtained by nucleotide sequencing of overlapping DNA fragments amplified by PCR were compared with HBV variants recovered from other primates and with human genotypes A to F. Both chimpanzee sequences were 3, 182 nucleotides in length, and the surface gene sequence predicted the existence of a, d, and w serological determinants. Neither sequence contained stop codons in the precore region. On phylogenetic analysis, the HBV variants infecting the chimpanzees clustered together with a third chimpanzee HBV isolate independently obtained from an infected captive animal (A. J. Zuckerman, A. Thornton, C. R. Howard, K. N. Tsiquaye, D. M. Jones, and M. R. Brambell, Lancet ii:652-654, 1978), with an overall sequence similarity of >94%. This provides strong evidence for a chimpanzee-specific genotype of HBV which circulates in nature. These findings add to the recent evidence for infection in the wild of other Old and New World primates (gibbon, orangutan, and woolly monkey) with species-specific variants of HBV. There is no evidence for close phylogenetic clustering of variants found so far in primates with any of the established HBV genotypes from humans. With the new evidence for the widespread distribution of HBV in primates, hypotheses for the origins of human infection are reviewed.

Original publication




Journal article


J Virol

Publication Date





4253 - 4257


Animals, Base Sequence, DNA, Viral, Genetic Variation, Genome, Viral, Hepadnaviridae, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis B virus, Humans, Molecular Sequence Data, Pan troglodytes, Phylogeny, Primate Diseases, Sequence Analysis, DNA