Lentiviruses from distinct animal species have in common their genomic organization, the induction of slowly progressive diseases over months or years, the large spectrum of induced symptoms and concerned organs, the frequent inapparent infection without any detectable clinical signs, their ability to persist into their hosts despite an often strong and mature immune response. Lentiviruses are also characterized by their genomic plasticity and the rapid evolution of the viral species. SRLVs infecting goats and sheep follow a genomic evolution pattern similar to that observed in HIV or in other lentiviruses. Based on limited number of complete sequences, they have been initially described as two distinct genetic groups evolving independently in sheep or goats, the ovine strains being closely related to each other and distinct from the caprine ones. Over the last 2 decades, the description of many partial or complete sequences of caprine and ovine field isolates from various geographical regions and their phylogenetic studies clearly evidenced the existence of a genetic continuum with viruses that did not simply cluster according to the animal species they were isolated from. Three classifications have been successively proposed and allowed to refine the SRLV phylogeny over time. Phylogenetic reconstructions support the existence of SRLV cross-species transmission in domestic and wild small ruminants.
Keywords: Visna Maedi Virus, CAEV, SRLV, small ruminant, lentivirus, variability, molecular epidemiology, phylogenetic reconstruction, pathogenic determinant
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