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To combat the high burden of rotavirus gastroenteritis, multiple African countries have introduced rotavirus vaccines into their childhood immunization programs. Malawi incorporated a G1P[8] rotavirus vaccine (Rotarix) into its immunization schedule in 2012. Utilizing a surveillance platform of hospitalized rotavirus gastroenteritis cases, we examined the phylodynamics of G1P[8] rotavirus strains that circulated in Malawi before (1998 to 2012) and after (2013 to 2014) vaccine introduction. Analysis of whole genomes obtained through next-generation sequencing revealed that all randomly selected prevaccine G1P[8] strains sequenced (n = 32) possessed a Wa-like genetic constellation, whereas postvaccine G1P[8] strains (n = 18) had a DS-1-like constellation. Phylodynamic analyses indicated that postvaccine G1P[8] strains emerged through reassortment events between human Wa- and DS-1-like rotaviruses that circulated in Malawi from the 1990s and hence were classified as atypical DS-1-like reassortants. The time to the most recent common ancestor for G1P[8] strains was from 1981 to 1994; their evolutionary rates ranged from 9.7 × 10-4 to 4.1 × 10-3 nucleotide substitutions/site/year. Three distinct G1P[8] lineages chronologically replaced each other between 1998 and 2014. Genetic drift was the likely driver for lineage turnover in 2005, whereas replacement in 2013 was due to reassortment. Amino acid substitution within the outer glycoprotein VP7 of G1P[8] strains had no impact on the structural conformation of the antigenic regions, suggesting that it is unlikely that they would affect recognition by vaccine-induced neutralizing antibodies. While the emergence of DS-1-like G1P[8] rotavirus reassortants in Malawi was therefore likely due to natural genotype variation, vaccine effectiveness against such strains needs careful evaluation.IMPORTANCE The error-prone RNA-dependent RNA polymerase and the segmented RNA genome predispose rotaviruses to genetic mutation and genome reassortment, respectively. These evolutionary mechanisms generate novel strains and have the potential to lead to the emergence of vaccine escape mutants. While multiple African countries have introduced a rotavirus vaccine, there are few data describing the evolution of rotaviruses that circulated before and after vaccine introduction. We report the emergence of atypical DS-1-like G1P[8] strains during the postvaccine era in Malawi. Three distinct G1P[8] lineages circulated chronologically from 1998 to 2014; mutation and reassortment drove lineage turnover in 2005 and 2013, respectively. Amino acid substitutions within the outer capsid VP7 glycoprotein did not affect the structural conformation of mapped antigenic sites, suggesting a limited effect on the recognition of G1-specific vaccine-derived antibodies. The genes that constitute the remaining genetic backbone may play important roles in immune evasion, and vaccine effectiveness against such atypical strains needs careful evaluation.

Original publication




Journal article


Journal of virology

Publication Date





Institute of Infection and Global Health, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, United Kingdom


Humans, Reassortant Viruses, Rotavirus, Rotavirus Infections, Gastroenteritis, RNA Replicase, RNA, Viral, Vaccines, Attenuated, Rotavirus Vaccines, Antigens, Viral, Phylogeny, Genetic Drift, Genome, Viral, Malawi, Genetic Variation, High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing