Analysis of genetic variation in 16 varicella-zoster virus (VZV) isolates selected at random and circulating in the Irish population between March 2002 and February 2003 was carried out. A 919 bp fragment of the glycoprotein E gene (open reading frame 68) encompassing codon 150, at which a non-synonymous mutation defines the escape mutant VZV-MSP, and including two other epitope regions e1 and c1, was sequenced. No new single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) were detected, indicating stability of these epitopes in clinical isolates of VZV. However, when four informative polymorphic markers consisting of defined regions from genes 1, 21, 50, and 54 were sequenced 14 variable nucleotide positions were identified. Phylogenetic analysis showed the presence of three highly supported clades A, B, and C circulating in the Irish population. Approximately one third (6/16; 37.5%) of the Irish VZV isolates in this study belonged to genotype C, 4/16 (25%) to genotype A, and 4/16 (25%) to genotype B. A smaller number 2/16 (12.5%) belonged to genotype J1. This indicates remarkable heterogeneity in the Irish population given the small sample size. No evidence was found to suggest any of the 16 isolates was a recombinant. These findings have implications for the model of geographic isolation of VZV clades to certain regions as the circulating Irish VZV population appears to comprise approximately equal numbers of each of the main genotypes. This data is inconsistent with a model of strict geographical separation of VZV genotypes and suggests that VZV diversity is more pronounced in certain areas than had been thought previously. (C) 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.