Subfamily: Comovirinae

Genus: Nepovirus


Distinguishing features

Nepoviruses are the only known members of the family that encode a single large capsid protein (CP) of 52–60 kDa (Fuchs et al., 2017). These viruses are transmitted by nematode vectors and through pollen.


See discussion under family description.

Genome organisation and replication

Genome organization and expression are similar to those of comoviruses, except that RNA2 specifies a single polyprotein of 105–207 kDa. Nepoviruses were formerly divided into three subgroups based on their sequences, genome organization and cleavage sites. Subgroup A nepoviruses have an RNA2 of 3,700–4,000 bases, present in both M and B components. Subgroup B nepoviruses have an RNA2 of 4,400–4,700 bases, present only in the M component. Subgroup C nepoviruses has an RNA2 of 6,400–7,300 bases, present in M component particles that are sometimes barely separable from those of B component. The three subgroups also differ in the cleavage sites recognized by their proteinase (Table 3.Secoviridae).

Additional linear or circular satellite RNAs, which sometimes modulate symptoms, are found associated with several nepoviruses. They are either linear (1100–1800 bases) with a 5ʹ-linked VPg, a 3ʹ-poly(A) tail and encoding a 36–48 kDa polypeptide, or circular (300–460 bases) and apparently non-coding (Chay et al., 1997, Feldstein et al., 1997). They are present in some natural isolates but are not necessary for virus accumulation (Gottula et al., 2013). In Aeonium plants infected with Aeonium ringspot virus there is an additional species of RNA2 (RNA2′) in addition to the full-length RNA2. The smaller length of this RNA2′ is the result of a 537 nt deletion in the predicted movement protein (MP) region (Sorrentino et al., 2013).

The RNA2-encoded polyprotein of subgroup A and B nepoviruses is processed into three domains. In grapevine fanleaf virus (GFLV), the N-terminal protein of the RNA2-encoded polyprotein (P2A) is involved in RNA2 replication (Gaire et al., 1999). The two other protein domains are the MP and the unique CP. Both are required for cell-to-cell movement of the virus. Similarly to comoviruses, the MP has a LPL motif, interacts with the CP and is a structural component of tubular structures containing virus-like particles and traversing the cell wall. Cell-to-cell movement depends on the secretory pathway and the cytoskeleton and requires class XI myosin motors (Laporte et al., 2003, Amari et al., 2011). In tomato ringspot virus (ToRSV) (subgroup C), the N-terminal region of the RNA2-encoded polyprotein is cleaved at an additional site, defining two domains (X3 and X4) (Carrier et al., 2001). The X3 protein contains some sequence similarity with the P2A protein of GFLV but the X4 protein is a unique protein of unknown function. The RNA1 of nepoviruses is translated into a single polyprotein that is processed into six domains. The C-terminal region of the polyprotein contains the replication block, and is similar to that of comoviruses (NTB-VPg-Pro-Pol). In contrast, the N-terminal region of the polyprotein contains an additional cleavage site defining two protein domains (X1 and X2) instead of the single domain present upstream of NTB in the comovirus genome. Cleavage at this additional site was demonstrated for Arabis mosaic virus (subgroup A) and ToRSV (subgroup C) (Wang and Sanfaçon 2000, Wetzel et al., 2008). A cleavage site at this position has been proposed for other nepoviruses. The function of X1 is unknown. X2 contains a sequence motif in common with the comovirus Co-Pro protein but does not seem to modulate the activity of the proteinase. However, similarly to the comovirus Co-Pro, the X2 protein of ToRSV associates with ER-derived membranes and a role in viral replication has been proposed (Zhang and Sanfaçon 2006). When comparing RNA1 and RNA2, the 5ʹ- and 3ʹ-UTRs are similar in sequence but not identical in subgroup A nepoviruses. In subgroup B nepoviruses, the 5ʹ-UTRs also show sequence similarity between RNA1 and RNA2, while the 3ʹ-UTRs are identical in both RNAs. In subgroup C nepoviruses, both UTRs are identical or nearly identical between RNA1 and RNA2. The region of sequence similarity extends into part of the coding region of the polyproteins in ToRSV, but not in blackcurrant reversion virus (Walker et al., 2015).


Nepoviruses are widely distributed in temperate regions. The natural host range of nepoviruses varies from wide to restricted, depending on the virus. Ringspot symptoms are characteristic, but mottling and spotting are equally frequent. Viruses of twelve species are acquired and transmitted non-persistently by longidorid nematodes (Xiphinema, Longidorus or Paralongidorus spp.), three are transmitted by pollen, and viruses of one species are transmitted by mites (blackcurrant reversion virus). The others have no known biological vector (Susi 2004). Seed and/or pollen transmission is very common. In herbaceous plants, the symptoms induced by nepoviruses are often transient, with newly emerging leaves appearing symptomless a few weeks after infection (the so-called “recovery” phenomenon). Symptom recovery is associated with induction of RNA silencing, an antiviral defence, and is sometimes (but not always) accompanied with reduced concentration of viral RNAs (Ghoshal and Sanfaçon 2015).

Species demarcation criteria

See discussion under family description

Related, unclassified viruses

Virus name

Accession number

Virus abbreviation

red clover nepovirus A

RNA1: MG253828; RNA2: MG253829


Virus names and virus abbreviations are not official ICTV designations.