Background and Aims Non-structural protein 4 (NSP4), encoded by group A rotavirus (RVA) genome segment 10, is the first recognized virus-encoded enterotoxin. Recently, a new classification system for RVAs was proposed and a total of 14 NSP4 genotypes (E1 to E14) are currently described.
Methods A total of 1391 faecal specimens collected from children under 5 years old were screened by ELISA for the presence of RVA antigen. NSP4-encoding genes of RVA positive strains were analyzed using a semi-nested RT-PCR.
Results Genotypes E1 and E2 were identified in 183 (70.1%) and 78 (29.9%) samples, respectively. This report represents the first investigation on the genetic diversity of RVA NSP4 genes in Tunisia. Tunisian RVA strains analysed in the present study belonged to 2 different genotypes: E1 and E2. Such a result is concordant with literature data: indeed, although 14 RV NSP4 genotypes have been identified to date, previous molecular characterization has shown that most of the diversity in the NSP4-encoding gene lies in genotypes E1 and E2. Other studies, however, have detected unusual strains carrying genotypes E3 and E13. Moreover, a predominance of NSP4 genotype E1 was observed over the entire period of study, from 2006 to 2008. Such a result was also quite expected as previous investigations have also shown that NSP4 genotype E1 was largely predominant among children worldwide.
Conclusions These results underline the need for further investigations to assess the validity of NSP4 as a suitable target for epidemiologic surveillance of rotavirus infections and vaccine development.