Twenty-six strains of rubella virus were compared with each other for a molecular epidemiologic study of the virus in three East Asian countries, using the E1 gene of 1443 nucleotides and the following 41 nucleotides in a noncoding region. Nucleotide substitution rates among strains were 0.0–9.4/100 nucleotides. A phylogenetic tree drawn indicated that 2 of 3 Chinese strains were quite different from the other 24 strains; all isolates in the 1960s were classified into a single group independent of the place of isolation, which includes isolates from Japan, the United States, and the United Kingdom; 11 strains of Japanese isolates collected during 1976–1991 made one subbranch derived from the 1960s group; and 2 isolates from the northeast part of Japan in 1990 made a third but minor unique branch. Therefore, at least two groups of the virus cocirculated in Japan around 1990. Antigenic variation of the virus was very small among these strains.

Author notes

Present affiliations: Center for Molecular Biology and Cytogenetics, SRL Inc., Hachioji, Tokyo (M.F.); New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization of Japan, Tokyo (Y.Y.).