The evolutionary and epidemiological dynamics of the paramyxoviridae

Laura W. Pomeroy, Ottar N. Bjørnstad, Edward C. Holmes

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84 Citations (Scopus)


Paramyxoviruses are responsible for considerable disease burden in human and wildlife populations: measles and mumps continue to affect the health of children worldwide, while canine distemper virus causes serious morbidity and mortality in a wide range of mammalian species. Although these viruses have been studied extensively at both the epidemiological and the phylogenetic scales, little has been done to integrate these two types of data. Using a Bayesian coalescent approach, we infer the evolutionary and epidemiological dynamics of measles, mumps and canine distemper viruses. Our analysis yielded data on viral substitution rates, the time to common ancestry, and elements of their demographic history. Estimates of rates of evolutionary change were similar to those observed in other RNA viruses, ranging from 6.585 to 11.350 × 10-4 nucleotide substitutions per site, per year. Strikingly, the mean Time to the Most Recent Common Ancestor (TMRCA) was both similar and very recent among the viruses studied, ranging from only 58 to 91 years (1908 to 1943). Worldwide, the paramyxoviruses studied here have maintained a relatively constant level of genetic diversity. However, detailed heterchronous samples illustrate more complex dynamics in some epidemic populations, and the relatively low levels of genetic diversity (population size) in all three viruses is likely to reflect the population bottlenecks that follow recurrent outbreaks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)98-106
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Molecular Evolution
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2008
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Rubing Chen for assistance with the BEAST analyses, Bryan Grenfell for advice on measles demography and statistics, and two anonymous reviewers for useful comments. Laura Pomeroy was supported by the National Science Foundation, under the NSF Graduate Teaching Fellowship in K-12 Education (DGE-0338240). This work was also supported by NIH Grant GM080533-01.


  • Canine distemper virus
  • Coalescent
  • Measles virus
  • Mumps virus
  • Paramyxovirus
  • Population bottleneck


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