Constrained evolution with respect to gene overlap of hepatitis B virus

Masashi Mizokami*, Etsuro Orito, Ken ichi Ohba, Kazuho Ikeo, Johnson Y N Lau, Takashi Gojobori

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

142 Scopus citations


With the aim of elucidating the evolution of a hepadnavirus family, we constructed molecular phylogenetic trees for 27 strains of hepatitis B virus (HBV) using both the unweighted pair-grouping and neighbor-joining methods. All five gene regions, P, C, S, X, and preS, were used to construct the phylogenetic trees. Using the phylogenetic trees obtained, we classified these strains into five major groups in which the strains were closely related to each other. Our classification reinforced our previous view that genetic classification is not always compatible with conventional classification determined by serological subtypes. Moreover, constraints on the evolutionary process of HBV were analyzed for amino-acid-altering (nonsynonymous) and silent (synonymous) substitutions, because two-thirds of the open reading frame (ORF), P, contains alternating overlapping ORFs. In our unique analysis of this interesting gene structure of HBV, the most frequent synonymous substitutions were observed in the nonoverlapped parts of the P and C genes. On the other hand, the number of synonymous substitutions per nucleotide site for the S gene was quite low and appeared a strongly constrained evolution. Because the P gene overlaps the S gene in a different frame, the low rate of synonymous substitution for the S gene can be explained by the evolutionary constraints which are imposed on the overlapping gene region. In other words, synonymous substitutions in the S gene can cause amino acid changes in its overlapping region in a different frame. Thus, the evolution of HBV is constrained evolutionarily by the overlapping genes. We propose calling this mode of viral evolution "constrained evolution." The evolution of HBV represents a typical constrained evolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Molecular Evolution
Issue number1 Supplement
StatePublished - Jan 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Constrained evolution
  • Genetic classification
  • Hepatitis B virus
  • Overlapping gene

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics(clinical)
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Biochemistry
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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