Characterization of a novel VIIl sub-genotype of Newcastle disease virus circulating in Iran

<p>Newcastle disease is an economically important and highly contagious disease affecting wild and domestic avian species. Despite extensive vaccination efforts within the poultry industry, Newcastle disease virus (NDV) outbreaks causing significant economic losses still occur. Rural chickens may act as a potential reservoir of NDVs for commercial poultry due to poor biosecurity and inadequate vaccination. The aim of this study was to investigate the phylogenetic relationship and molecular characterization of eight NDVs isolated from backyard poultry in Iran during 2011–2013. The complete coding sequence of fusion (F) and haemagglutinin-neuraminidase (HN) genes of eight NDVs were determined and compared with other published NDVs. Based on inter-population distances and phylogenetic topology between available NDV categories, Iranian isolates formed a novel VIIl sub-genotype distinct from previous groups designated in genotype VII. Furthermore, both F and HN genes of the Iranian isolates shared high nucleotide sequence similarity with viruses isolated in China. All viruses analysed contained a polybasic cleavage site motif (<sup>111</sup>G/RRRQKR↓F<sup>117</sup>), indicating that all isolates could be categorized as a virulent pathotype. No mutation was observed in the neutralizing epitopes of the F protein. Analysis of amino acids associated with neutralizing antigenic sites within the HN protein revealed that all isolates exhibited a unique amino acid (Q) at position 347. These results emphasize the need for strengthening the biosecurity measures implemented on village flocks and practicing a mandatory vaccination programme for local poultry. Moreover, continuous monitoring of NDVs in different species of birds can help to gain more knowledge about the evolution of this virus and prevent future panzootics.</p>