• Evolutionary analysis of hepatitis C virus gene sequences from 1953.

    3 July 2018

    Reconstructing the transmission history of infectious diseases in the absence of medical or epidemiological records often relies on the evolutionary analysis of pathogen genetic sequences. The precision of evolutionary estimates of epidemic history can be increased by the inclusion of sequences derived from 'archived' samples that are genetically distinct from contemporary strains. Historical sequences are especially valuable for viral pathogens that circulated for many years before being formally identified, including HIV and the hepatitis C virus (HCV). However, surprisingly few HCV isolates sampled before discovery of the virus in 1989 are currently available. Here, we report and analyse two HCV subgenomic sequences obtained from infected individuals in 1953, which represent the oldest genetic evidence of HCV infection. The pairwise genetic diversity between the two sequences indicates a substantial period of HCV transmission prior to the 1950s, and their inclusion in evolutionary analyses provides new estimates of the common ancestor of HCV in the USA. To explore and validate the evolutionary information provided by these sequences, we used a new phylogenetic molecular clock method to estimate the date of sampling of the archived strains, plus the dates of four more contemporary reference genomes. Despite the short fragments available, we conclude that the archived sequences are consistent with a proposed sampling date of 1953, although statistical uncertainty is large. Our cross-validation analyses suggest that the bias and low statistical power observed here likely arise from a combination of high evolutionary rate heterogeneity and an unstructured, star-like phylogeny. We expect that attempts to date other historical viruses under similar circumstances will meet similar problems.

  • Effects of neutralizing antibodies on escape from CD8+ T-cell responses in HIV-1 infection.

    3 July 2018

    Despite substantial advances in our knowledge of immune responses against HIV-1 and of its evolution within the host, it remains unclear why control of the virus eventually breaks down. Here, we present a new theoretical framework for the infection dynamics of HIV-1 that combines antibody and CD8(+) T-cell responses, notably taking into account their different lifespans. Several apparent paradoxes in HIV pathogenesis and genetics of host susceptibility can be reconciled within this framework by assigning a crucial role to antibody responses in the control of viraemia. We argue that, although escape from or progressive loss of quality of CD8(+) T-cell responses can accelerate disease progression, the underlying cause of the breakdown of virus control is the loss of antibody induction due to depletion of CD4(+) T cells. Furthermore, strong antibody responses can prevent CD8(+) T-cell escape from occurring for an extended period, even in the presence of highly efficacious CD8(+) T-cell responses.

  • Viral phylogeny in court: the unusual case of the Valencian anesthetist.

    3 July 2018

    A large and complex outbreak of hepatitis C virus in Valencia, Spain that began 25 years ago led to the prosecution and conviction of an anesthetist who was accused of infecting hundreds of his patients. Evolutionary analyses of viral gene sequences were presented as evidence in the trial, and these are now described in detail by González-Candelas and colleagues in a paper published in BMC Biology. Their study illustrates the challenges and opportunities that arise from the use of phylogenetic inference in criminal trials concerning virus transmission.

  • The mode and tempo of hepatitis C virus evolution within and among hosts.

    3 July 2018

    BACKGROUND: Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a rapidly-evolving RNA virus that establishes chronic infections in humans. Despite the virus' public health importance and a wealth of sequence data, basic aspects of HCV molecular evolution remain poorly understood. Here we investigate three sets of whole HCV genomes in order to directly compare the evolution of whole HCV genomes at different biological levels: within- and among-hosts. We use a powerful Bayesian inference framework that incorporates both among-lineage rate heterogeneity and phylogenetic uncertainty into estimates of evolutionary parameters. RESULTS: Most of the HCV genome evolves at ~0.001 substitutions/site/year, a rate typical of RNA viruses. The antigenically-important E1/E2 genome region evolves particularly quickly, with correspondingly high rates of positive selection, as inferred using two related measures. Crucially, in this region an exceptionally higher rate was observed for within-host evolution compared to among-host evolution. Conversely, higher rates of evolution were seen among-hosts for functionally relevant parts of the NS5A gene. There was also evidence for slightly higher evolutionary rate for HCV subtype 1a compared to subtype 1b. CONCLUSIONS: Using new statistical methods and comparable whole genome datasets we have quantified, for the first time, the variation in HCV evolutionary dynamics at different scales of organisation. This confirms that differences in molecular evolution between biological scales are not restricted to HIV and may represent a common feature of chronic RNA viral infection. We conclude that the elevated rate observed in the E1/E2 region during within-host evolution more likely results from the reversion of host-specific adaptations (resulting in slower long-term among-host evolution) than from the preferential transmission of slowly-evolving lineages.

  • The evolutionary dynamics of influenza A virus adaptation to mammalian hosts.

    3 July 2018

    Few questions on infectious disease are more important than understanding how and why avian influenza A viruses successfully emerge in mammalian populations, yet little is known about the rate and nature of the virus' genetic adaptation in new hosts. Here, we measure, for the first time, the genomic rate of adaptive evolution of swine influenza viruses (SwIV) that originated in birds. By using a curated dataset of more than 24 000 human and swine influenza gene sequences, including 41 newly characterized genomes, we reconstructed the adaptive dynamics of three major SwIV lineages (Eurasian, EA; classical swine, CS; triple reassortant, TR). We found that, following the transfer of the EA lineage from birds to swine in the late 1970s, EA virus genes have undergone substantially faster adaptive evolution than those of the CS lineage, which had circulated among swine for decades. Further, the adaptation rates of the EA lineage antigenic haemagglutinin and neuraminidase genes were unexpectedly high and similar to those observed in human influenza A. We show that the successful establishment of avian influenza viruses in swine is associated with raised adaptive evolution across the entire genome for many years after zoonosis, reflecting the contribution of multiple mutations to the coordinated optimization of viral fitness in a new environment. This dynamics is replicated independently in the polymerase genes of the TR lineage, which established in swine following separate transmission from non-swine hosts.

  • Macroevolution of complex retroviruses.

    3 July 2018

    Retroviruses can leave a "fossil record" in their hosts' genomes in the form of endogenous retroviruses. Foamy viruses, complex retroviruses that infect mammals, have been notably absent from this record. We have found an endogenous foamy virus within the genomes of sloths and show that foamy viruses were infecting mammals more than 100 million years ago and codiverged with their hosts across an entire geological era. Our analysis highlights the role of evolutionary constraint in maintaining viral genome structure and indicates that accessory genes and mammalian mechanisms of innate immunity are the products of macroevolutionary conflict played out over a geological time scale.

  • The rapidly expanding CRF01_AE epidemic in China is driven by multiple lineages of HIV-1 viruses introduced in the 1990s.

    3 July 2018

    We sought to comprehensively analyze the origin, transmission patterns and sub-epidemic clusters of the HIV-1 CRF01_AE strains in China.Available HIV-1 CRF01_AE samples indentified in national molecular epidemiologic surveys were used to generate near full-length genome (NFLG) sequences. The new and globally available CRF01_AE NFLG sequences were subjected to phylogenetic and Bayesian molecular clock analyses, and combined with epidemiologic data to elucidate the history of CRF01_AE transmission in China.We generated 75 new CRF01_AE NFLG sequences from various risk populations covering all major CRF01_AE epidemic regions in China. Seven distinct phylogenetic clusters of CRF01_AE were identified. Clusters 1, 2 and 3 were prevalent among heterosexuals and IDUs in southern and southwestern provinces. Clusters 4 and 5 were found primarily among MSM in major northern cities. Clusters 6 and 7 were only detected among heterosexuals in two southeast and southwest provinces. Molecular clock analysis indicated that all CRF01_AE clusters were introduced from Southeast Asia in the 1990s, coinciding with the peak of Thailand's HIV epidemic and the initiation of China's free overseas travel policy for their citizens, which started with Thailand as the first destination country.China's HIV-1 epidemic of sexual transmissions, was initiated by multilineages of CRF01_AE strains, in contrast to the mono-lineage epidemic of B' strain in former plasma donors and IDUs. Our study underscores the difficulty in controlling HIV-1 sexual transmission compared with parenteral transmission.

  • Synonymous substitution rates predict HIV disease progression as a result of underlying replication dynamics.

    3 July 2018

    Upon HIV transmission, some patients develop AIDS in only a few months, while others remain disease free for 20 or more years. This variation in the rate of disease progression is poorly understood and has been attributed to host genetics, host immune responses, co-infection, viral genetics, and adaptation. Here, we develop a new "relaxed-clock" phylogenetic method to estimate absolute rates of synonymous and nonsynonymous substitution through time. We identify an unexpected association between the synonymous substitution rate of HIV and disease progression parameters. Since immune activation is the major determinant of HIV disease progression, we propose that this process can also determine viral generation times, by creating favourable conditions for HIV replication. These conclusions may apply more generally to HIV evolution, since we also observed an overall low synonymous substitution rate for HIV-2, which is known to be less pathogenic than HIV-1 and capable of tempering the detrimental effects of immune activation. Humoral immune responses, on the other hand, are the major determinant of nonsynonymous rate changes through time in the envelope gene, and our relaxed-clock estimates support a decrease in selective pressure as a consequence of immune system collapse.