Background. Influenza A virus infects not only humans, but also other species including avian and swine. If a novel influenza A subtype acquires the ability to spread between humans efficiently, it could cause the next pandemic. Therefore it is necessary to understand the evolutionary processes of influenza A viruses in various hosts in order to gain better knowledge about the emergence of pandemic virus. The virus has segmented RNA genome and 7th segment, M gene, encodes 2 proteins. M1 is a matrix protein and M2 is a membrane protein. The M gene may be involved in determining host tropism. Besides, novel vaccines targeting M1 or M2 protein to confer cross subtype protection have been under development. We conducted the present study to investigate the evolution of the M gene by analyzing its sequence in different species. Results. Phylogenetic tree revealed host-specific lineages and evolution rates were different among species. Selective pressure on M2 was stronger than that on M1. Selective pressure on M1 for human influenza was stronger than that for avian influenza, as well as M2. Site-by-site analyses identified one site (amino acid position 219) in M1 as positively selected in human. Positions 115 and 121 in M1, at which consensus amino acids were different between human and avian, were under negative selection in both hosts. As to M2, 10 sites were under positive selection in human. Seven sites locate in extracellular domain. That might be due to host's immune pressure. One site (position 27) positively selected in transmembrane domain is known to be associated with drug resistance. And, two sites (positions 57 and 89) locate in cytoplasmic domain. The sites are involved in several functions. Conclusion. The M gene of influenza A virus has evolved independently, under different selective pressure on M1 and M2 among different hosts. We found potentially important sites that may be related to host tropism and immune responses. These sites may be important for evolutional process in different hosts and host adaptation.
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