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Background: In an effort to identify the evolutionary changes relevant to E2 function, within and between papillomavirus genera, we evaluated the E2 binding sites (E2BS)s inside the long-control-region (LCR), and throughout the genomes. We identified E2BSs in the six largest genera of papillomaviruses: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Lambda, and Xi-papillomaviruses (128 genomes), by comparing the sequences with a model consensus we created from known functional E2BSs (HPV16, HPV18, BPV1). We analyzed the sequence conservation and nucleotide content of the 4-nucleotide spacer within E2BSs. We determined that there is a statistically significant difference in GC content of the four-nucleotide E2BS spacer, between Alpha and Delta-papillomaviruses, as compared to each of the other groups. Additionally, we performed multiple alignments of E2 protein sequences using members of each genus in order to identify evolutionary changes within the E2 protein.
Results: When a phylogenetic tree was generated from E2 amino acid sequences, it was discovered that the alpha-papillomavirus genera segregates into two distinct subgroups (α1 and α2). When these subgroups were individually analyzed, it was determined that the subgroup α1 consensus E2BS favored a spacer of AAAA, whereas subgroup α2 favored the opposite orientation of the same spacer; TTTT. This observation suggests that these conserved inverted linkers could have functional importance.