Was Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus introduced into China via the ancient Silk Road? An evolutionary perspective

Zhenqiu Liu, Qiwen Fang, Jialu Zuo, Veenu Minhas, Charles Wood, Na He, Tiejun Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV) has become widely dispersed worldwide since it was first reported in 1994, but the seroprevalence of KSHV varies geographically. KSHV is relatively ubiquitous in Mediterranean areas and the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, China. The origin of KSHV has long been puzzling. In the present study, we collected and analysed 154 KSHV ORF-K1 sequences obtained from samples originating from Xinjiang, Italy, Greece, Iran and southern Siberia using Bayesian evolutionary analysis in BEAST to test the hypothesis that KSHV was introduced into Xinjiang via the ancient Silk Road. According to the phylogenetic analysis, 72 sequences were subtype A and 82 subtype C, with C2 (n = 56) being the predominant subtype. The times to the most recent common ancestors (tMRCAs) of KSHV were 29,872 years (95% highest probability density [HPD], 26,851-32,760 years) for all analysed sequences and 2037 years (95% HPD, 1843-2229 years) for Xinjiang sequences in particular. The tMRCA of Xinjiang KSHV was exactly matched with the time period of the ancient Silk Road approximately two thousand years ago. This route began in Chang’an, the capital of the Han dynasty of China, and crossed Central Asia, ending in the Roman Empire. The evolution rate of KSHV was slow, with 3.44 × 10−6 substitutions per site per year (95% HPD, 2.26 × 10−6 to 4.71 × 10−6), although 11 codons were discovered to be under positive selection pressure. The geographic distances from Italy to Iran and Xinjiang are more than 4000 and 7000 kilometres, respectively, but no explicit relationship between genetic distance and geographic distance was detected.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3061-3068
Number of pages8
JournalArchives of Virology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Virology


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