Avian picornaviruses: Molecular evolution, genome diversity and unusual genome features of a rapidly expanding group of viruses in birds

Research output: Review article

22 Citations (Scopus)


Picornaviridae is one of the most diverse families of viruses infecting vertebrate species. In contrast to the relative small number of mammal species compared to other vertebrates, the abundance of mammal-infecting picornaviruses was significantly overrepresented among the presently known picornaviruses. Therefore most of the current knowledge about the genome diversity/organization patterns and common genome features were based on the analysis of mammal-infecting picornaviruses. Beside the well known reservoir role of birds in case of several emerging viral pathogens, little is known about the diversity of picornaviruses circulating among birds, although in the last decade the number of known avian picornavirus species with complete genome was increased from one to at least 15. However, little is known about the geographic distribution, host spectrum or pathogenic potential of the recently described picornaviruses of birds. Despite the low number of known avian picornaviruses, the phylogenetic and genome organization diversity of these viruses were remarkable. Beside the common L-4-3-4 and 4-3-4 genome layouts unusual genome patterns (3-4-4; 3-5-4, 3-6-4; 3-8-4) with variable, multicistronic 2A genome regions were found among avian picornaviruses. The phylogenetic and genomic analysis revealed the presence of several conserved structures at the untranslated regions among phylogenetically distant avian and non-avian picornaviruses as well as at least five different avian picornavirus phylogenetic clusters located in every main picornavirus lineage with characteristic genome layouts which suggests the complex evolution history of these viruses. Based on the remarkable genetic diversity of the few known avian picornaviruses, the emergence of further divergent picornaviruses causing challenges in the current taxonomy and also in the understanding of the evolution and genome organization of picornaviruses will be strongly expected. In this review we would like to summarize the current knowledge about the taxonomy, pathogenic potential, phylogenetic/genomic diversity and evolutional relationship of avian picornaviruses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)151-166
Number of pages16
JournalInfection, Genetics and Evolution
Publication statusPublished - dec. 1 2014


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases

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