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  • Generation of neutralizing antibodies and divergence of SIVmac239 in cynomolgus macaques following short-term early antiretroviral therapy.

    16 October 2018

    Neutralizing antibodies (NAb) able to react to heterologous viruses are generated during natural HIV-1 infection in some individuals. Further knowledge is required in order to understand the factors contributing to induction of cross-reactive NAb responses. Here a well-established model of experimental pathogenic infection in cynomolgus macaques, which reproduces long-lasting HIV-1 infection, was used to study the NAb response as well as the viral evolution of the highly neutralization-resistant SIVmac239. Twelve animals were infected intravenously with SIVmac239. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) was initiated ten days post-inoculation and administered daily for four months. Viral load, CD4(+) T-cell counts, total IgG levels, and breadth as well as strength of NAb in plasma were compared simultaneously over 14 months. In addition, envs from plasma samples were sequenced at three time points in all animals in order to assess viral evolution. We report here that seven of the 12 animals controlled viremia to below 10(4) copies/ml of plasma after discontinuation of ART and that this control was associated with a low level of evolutionary divergence. Macaques that controlled viral load developed broader NAb responses early on. Furthermore, escape mutations, such as V67M and R751G, were identified in virus sequenced from all animals with uncontrolled viremia. Bayesian estimation of ancestral population genetic diversity (PGD) showed an increase in this value in non-controlling or transient-controlling animals during the first 5.5 months of infection, in contrast to virus-controlling animals. Similarly, non- or transient controllers displayed more positively-selected amino-acid substitutions. An early increase in PGD, resulting in the generation of positively-selected amino-acid substitutions, greater divergence and relative high viral load after ART withdrawal, may have contributed to the generation of potent NAb in several animals after SIVmac239 infection. However, early broad NAb responses correlated with relatively preserved CD4(+) T-cell numbers, low viral load and limited viral divergence.

  • Inference of viral evolutionary rates from molecular sequences.

    16 October 2018

    The processes of mutation and nucleotide substitution contribute to the observed variability in virulence, transmission and persistence of viral pathogens. Since most viruses evolve many times faster than their human hosts, we are in the unusual position of being able to measure these processes directly by comparing viral genes that have been isolated and sequenced at different points in time. The analysis of such data requires the use of specific statistical methods that take into account the shared ancestry of the sequences and the randomness inherent in the process of nucleotide substitution. In this paper we describe the various statistical methods for estimating evolutionary rates, which can be classified into three general approaches: linear regression, maximum likelihood, and Bayesian inference. We discuss the advantages and shortcomings of each approach and illustrate their use through the analysis of two example viruses; human immunodeficiency virus type 1 and dengue virus serotype 4. Reliable estimates of viral substitution rates have many important applications in population genetics and phylogenetics, including dating evolutionary events and divergence times, estimating demographic parameters such as population size and generation time, and investigating the effect of natural selection on molecular evolution.

  • Genetic diversity and phenotypic associations of feline caliciviruses from cats in Switzerland.

    16 October 2018

    Feline calicivirus (FCV) is a common viral pathogen in domestic cats worldwide. The variable regions of the capsid (VP1) gene of FCV have one of the highest recorded rates of molecular evolution. Understanding the genetic diversity and phylogeny of FCV is a prerequisite to exploring the epidemiology and pathogenesis of this virus and to the development of efficacious vaccine strategies. In this study, we undertook a nationwide molecular characterization of FCV using for the first time nearly complete capsid (VP1) gene sequences. Sequences from 66 FCV samples were used to investigate the correlation between viral phylogeny and several traits, including geographic origin, signalment, husbandry, FCV vaccination and co-infections. Codon-based nucleotide alignment showed that individual nucleotides and their corresponding amino acid sites were either invariant or highly variable. Using a threshold of 20 % genetic distance in variable region E, FCV samples were grouped into 52 strains, 10 of which comprised two to three samples. Significant associations between FCV phylogeny and host characteristics were found, specifically the pedigree status of the cats, and two well-supported lineages were identified in which the current FCV strain definition was confounded. No correlation between viral genetic distances and geographic distances was evident. The greater resolution of the FCV phylogeny in this study compared to previous studies can be attributed to our use of more conserved regions of the capsid (VP1) gene; nonetheless, our results were still hampered by sequence saturation. The study highlights the need for whole-genome sequences for FCV phylogeny studies.

  • Viral evolution explains the associations among hepatitis C virus genotype, clinical outcomes, and human genetic variation.

    16 October 2018

    Specific human polymorphisms, most commonly found in Central Africa, can predict the success of drug treatment against the hepatitis C virus (HCV), a significant and globally-distributed human pathogen. However, this association is only found for a subset of HCV genotypes. Despite receiving considerable attention in the medical and virological literature, no evolutionary explanation for this curious pattern has been put forward. Here we suggest that the 'drug treatment resistance' phenotype exhibited today by some HCV genotypes evolved hundreds to thousands of years ago in response to human genetic variation local to Central Africa: an adaptation that has since accrued a new function in the era of anti-viral drug treatment. This could represent one of the oldest known examples of viral exaptation at the population level.

  • The ecology and age structure of a highly pathogenic avian influenza virus outbreak in wild mute swans.

    16 October 2018

    The first UK epizootic of highly pathogenic (HP) H5N1 influenza in wild birds occurred in 2008, in a population of mute swans that had been the subject of ornithological study for decades. Here we use an innovative combination of ornithological, phylogenetic and immunological approaches to investigate the ecology and age structure of HP H5N1 in nature. We screened samples from swans and waterbirds using PCR and sequenced HP H5N1-positive samples. The outbreak's origin was investigated by linking bird count data with a molecular clock analysis of sampled virus sequences. We used ringing records to reconstruct the age-structure of outbreak mortality, and we estimated the age distribution of prior exposure to avian influenza. Outbreak mortality was low and all HP H5N1-positive mute swans in the affected population were <3 years old. Only the youngest age classes contained an appreciable number of individuals with no detectable antibody responses to viral nucleoprotein. Phylogenetic analysis indicated that the outbreak strain circulated locally for ~1 month before detection and arrived when the immigration rate of migrant waterbirds was highest. Our data are consistent with the hypothesis that HP H5N1 epizootics in wild swans exhibit limited mortality due to immune protection arising from previous exposure. Our study population may represent a valuable resource for investigating the natural ecology and epidemiology of avian influenza.

  • The global spread of hepatitis C virus 1a and 1b: a phylodynamic and phylogeographic analysis.

    16 October 2018

    BACKGROUND: Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is estimated to affect 130-180 million people worldwide. Although its origin is unknown, patterns of viral diversity suggest that HCV genotype 1 probably originated from West Africa. Previous attempts to estimate the spatiotemporal parameters of the virus, both globally and regionally, have suggested that epidemic HCV transmission began in 1900 and grew steadily until the late 1980s. However, epidemiological data suggest that the expansion of HCV may have occurred after the Second World War. The aim of our study was to elucidate the timescale and route of the global spread of HCV. METHODS AND FINDINGS: We show that the rarely sequenced HCV region (E2P7NS2) is more informative for molecular epidemiology studies than the more commonly used NS5B region. We applied phylodynamic methods to a substantial set of new E2P7NS2 and NS5B sequences, together with all available global HCV sequences with information in both of these genomic regions, in order to estimate the timescale and nature of the global expansion of the most prevalent HCV subtypes, 1a and 1b. We showed that transmission of subtypes 1a and 1b "exploded" between 1940 and 1980, with the spread of 1b preceding that of 1a by at least 16 y (95% confidence interval 15-17). Phylogeographic analysis of all available NS5B sequences suggests that HCV subtypes 1a and 1b disseminated from the developed world to the developing countries. CONCLUSIONS: The evolutionary rate of HCV appears faster than previously suggested. The global spread of HCV coincided with the widespread use of transfused blood and blood products and with the expansion of intravenous drug use but slowed prior to the wide implementation of anti-HCV screening. Differences in the transmission routes associated with subtypes 1a and 1b provide an explanation of the relatively earlier expansion of 1b. Our data show that the most plausible route of the HCV dispersal was from developed countries to the developing world. Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary.

  • Phylogenetic surveillance of viral genetic diversity and the evolving molecular epidemiology of human immunodeficiency virus type 1.

    16 October 2018

    With ongoing generation of viral genetic diversity and increasing levels of migration, the global human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) epidemic is becoming increasingly heterogeneous. In this study, we investigate the epidemiological characteristics of 5,675 HIV-1 pol gene sequences sampled from distinct infections in the United Kingdom. These sequences were phylogenetically analyzed in conjunction with 976 complete-genome and 3,201 pol gene reference sequences sampled globally and representing the broad range of HIV-1 genetic diversity, allowing us to estimate the probable geographic origins of the various strains present in the United Kingdom. A statistical analysis of phylogenetic clustering in this data set identified several independent transmission chains within the United Kingdom involving recently introduced strains and indicated that strains more commonly associated with infections acquired heterosexually in East Africa are spreading among men who have sex with men. Coalescent approaches were also used and indicated that the transmission chains that we identify originated in the late 1980s to early 1990s. Similar changes in the epidemiological structuring of HIV epidemics are likely to be taking in place in other industrialized nations with large immigrant populations. The framework implemented here takes advantage of the vast amount of routinely generated HIV-1 sequence data and can provide epidemiological insights not readily obtainable through standard surveillance methods.

  • Invasion and maintenance of dengue virus type 2 and type 4 in the Americas.

    16 October 2018

    Dengue virus type 4 (DENV-4) was first reported in the Americas in 1981, where it caused epidemics of dengue fever throughout the region. In the same year, the region's first epidemic of dengue hemorrhagic fever was reported, caused by an Asian strain of dengue virus type 2 (DENV-2) that was distinct from the American subtype circulating previously. Despite the importance of these epidemics, little is known about the rates or determinants of viral spread among island and mainland populations or their directions of movement. We employed a Bayesian coalescent approach to investigate the transmission histories of DENV-2 and DENV-4 since their introduction in 1981 and a parsimony method to assess patterns of strain migration. For both viruses there was an initial invasion phase characterized by an exponential increase in the number of DENV lineages, after which levels of genetic diversity remained constant despite reported fluctuations in DENV-2 and DENV-4 activity. Strikingly, viral lineage numbers increased far more rapidly for DENV-4 than DENV-2, indicative of a more rapid rate of exponential population growth in DENV-4 or a higher rate of geographic dispersal, allowing this virus to move more effectively among localities. We propose that these contrasting dynamics may reflect underlying differences in patterns of host immunity. Despite continued gene flow along particular transmission routes, the overall extent of viral traffic was less than expected under panmixis. Hence, DENV in the Americas has a clear geographic structure that maintains viral diversity between outbreaks.