Publications by authors named "Alexa N Avitto"

7 Publications

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CD4 receptor diversity represents an ancient protection mechanism against primate lentiviruses.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2021 Mar;118(13)

Lukuru Wildlife Research Foundation, Tshuapa-Lomami-Lualaba Project, BP 2012, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Infection with human and simian immunodeficiency viruses (HIV/SIV) requires binding of the viral envelope glycoprotein (Env) to the host protein CD4 on the surface of immune cells. Although invariant in humans, the Env binding domain of the chimpanzee CD4 is highly polymorphic, with nine coding variants circulating in wild populations. Here, we show that within-species CD4 diversity is not unique to chimpanzees but found in many African primate species. Characterizing the outermost (D1) domain of the CD4 protein in over 500 monkeys and apes, we found polymorphic residues in 24 of 29 primate species, with as many as 11 different coding variants identified within a single species. D1 domain amino acid replacements affected SIV Env-mediated cell entry in a single-round infection assay, restricting infection in a strain- and allele-specific fashion. Several identical CD4 polymorphisms, including the addition of -linked glycosylation sites, were found in primate species from different genera, providing striking examples of parallel evolution. Moreover, seven different guenons ( spp.) shared multiple distinct D1 domain variants, pointing to long-term trans-specific polymorphism. These data indicate that the HIV/SIV Env binding region of the primate CD4 protein is highly variable, both within and between species, and suggest that this diversity has been maintained by balancing selection for millions of years, at least in part to confer protection against primate lentiviruses. Although long-term SIV-infected species have evolved specific mechanisms to avoid disease progression, primate lentiviruses are intrinsically pathogenic and have left their mark on the host genome.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2025914118DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8020793PMC
March 2021

Heightened resistance to host type 1 interferons characterizes HIV-1 at transmission and after antiretroviral therapy interruption.

Sci Transl Med 2021 Jan;13(576)

Laboratory of Molecular Immunology, Rockefeller University, New York, NY 10065, USA.

Type 1 interferons (IFN-I) are potent innate antiviral effectors that constrain HIV-1 transmission. However, harnessing these cytokines for HIV-1 cure strategies has been hampered by an incomplete understanding of their antiviral activities at later stages of infection. Here, we characterized the IFN-I sensitivity of 500 clonally derived HIV-1 isolates from the plasma and CD4 T cells of 26 individuals sampled longitudinally after transmission or after antiretroviral therapy (ART) and analytical treatment interruption. We determined the concentration of IFNα2 and IFNβ that reduced viral replication in vitro by 50% (IC) and found consistent changes in the sensitivity of HIV-1 to IFN-I inhibition both across individuals and over time. Resistance of HIV-1 isolates to IFN-I was uniformly high during acute infection, decreased in all individuals in the first year after infection, was reacquired concomitant with CD4 T cell loss, and remained elevated in individuals with accelerated disease. HIV-1 isolates obtained by viral outgrowth during suppressive ART were relatively IFN-I sensitive, resembling viruses circulating just before ART initiation. However, viruses that rebounded after treatment interruption displayed the highest degree of IFNα2 and IFNβ resistance observed at any time during the infection course. These findings indicate a dynamic interplay between host innate responses and the evolving HIV-1 quasispecies, with the relative contribution of IFN-I to HIV-1 control affected by both ART and analytical treatment interruption. Although elevated at transmission, host innate pressures are the highest during viral rebound, limiting the viruses that successfully become reactivated from latency to those that are IFN-I resistant.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/scitranslmed.abd8179DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7923595PMC
January 2021

Increasing the Specificity of AAV-Based Gene Editing through Self-Targeting and Short-Promoter Strategies.

Mol Ther 2021 03 25;29(3):1047-1056. Epub 2020 Dec 25.

Gene Therapy Program, Department of Medicine, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA. Electronic address:

Our group previously used adeno-associated viral vectors (AAVs) to express an engineered meganuclease specific for a sequence in the PCSK9 gene (M2PCSK9), a clinical target for treating coronary heart disease. Upon testing this nuclease in non-human primates, we observed specific editing characterized by several insertions and deletions (indels) in the target sequence as well as indels in similar genomic sequences. We hypothesized that high nuclease expression increases off-target editing. Here, we reduced nuclease expression using two strategies. The first was a self-targeting strategy that involved inserting the M2PCSK9 target sequence into the AAV genome that expresses the nuclease and/or fusing the nuclease to a specific peptide to promote its degradation. The second strategy used a shortened version of the parental promoter to reduce nuclease expression. Mice administered with these second-generation AAV vectors showed reduced PCSK9 expression due to the nuclease on-target activity and reduced off-target activity. All vectors induced a stable reduction of PCSK9 in primates treated with self-targeting and short-promoter AAVs. Compared to the meganuclease-expressing parental AAV vector, we observed a significant reduction in off-target activity. In conclusion, we increased the in vivo nuclease specificity using a clinically relevant strategy that can be applied to other genome-editing nucleases.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ymthe.2020.12.028DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7934631PMC
March 2021

CHIIMP: An automated high-throughput microsatellite genotyping platform reveals greater allelic diversity in wild chimpanzees.

Ecol Evol 2018 Aug 16;8(16):7946-7963. Epub 2018 Jul 16.

Departments of Microbiology and Medicine Perelman School of Medicine University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia Pennsylvania.

Short tandem repeats (STRs), also known as microsatellites, are commonly used to noninvasively genotype wild-living endangered species, including African apes. Until recently, capillary electrophoresis has been the method of choice to determine the length of polymorphic STR loci. However, this technique is labor intensive, difficult to compare across platforms, and notoriously imprecise. Here we developed a MiSeq-based approach and tested its performance using previously genotyped fecal samples from long-term studied chimpanzees in Gombe National Park, Tanzania. Using data from eight microsatellite loci as a reference, we designed a bioinformatics platform that converts raw MiSeq reads into locus-specific files and automatically calls alleles after filtering stutter sequences and other PCR artifacts. Applying this method to the entire Gombe population, we confirmed previously reported genotypes, but also identified 31 new alleles that had been missed due to sequence differences and size homoplasy. The new genotypes, which increased the allelic diversity and heterozygosity in Gombe by 61% and 8%, respectively, were validated by replicate amplification and pedigree analyses. This demonstrated inheritance and resolved one case of an ambiguous paternity. Using both singleplex and multiplex locus amplification, we also genotyped fecal samples from chimpanzees in the Greater Mahale Ecosystem in Tanzania, demonstrating the utility of the MiSeq-based approach for genotyping nonhabituated populations and performing comparative analyses across field sites. The new automated high-throughput analysis platform (available at https://github.com/ShawHahnLab/chiimp) will allow biologists to more accurately and effectively determine wildlife population size and structure, and thus obtain information critical for conservation efforts.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ece3.4302DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6145012PMC
August 2018

Evolutionary history of human revealed by genome-wide analyses of related ape parasites.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2018 09 20;115(36):E8450-E8459. Epub 2018 Aug 20.

Department of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104;

Wild-living African apes are endemically infected with parasites that are closely related to human , a leading cause of malaria outside Africa. This finding suggests that the origin of was in Africa, even though the parasite is now rare in humans there. To elucidate the emergence of human and its relationship to the ape parasites, we analyzed genome sequence data of strains infecting six chimpanzees and one gorilla from Cameroon, Gabon, and Côte d'Ivoire. We found that ape and human parasites share nearly identical core genomes, differing by only 2% of coding sequences. However, compared with the ape parasites, human strains of exhibit about 10-fold less diversity and have a relative excess of nonsynonymous nucleotide polymorphisms, with site-frequency spectra suggesting they are subject to greatly relaxed purifying selection. These data suggest that human has undergone an extreme bottleneck, followed by rapid population expansion. Investigating potential host-specificity determinants, we found that ape parasites encode intact orthologs of three reticulocyte-binding protein genes (, , and ), which are pseudogenes in all human strains. However, binding studies of recombinant RBP2e and RBP3 proteins to human, chimpanzee, and gorilla erythrocytes revealed no evidence of host-specific barriers to red blood cell invasion. These data suggest that, from an ancient stock of parasites capable of infecting both humans and apes, a severely bottlenecked lineage emerged out of Africa and underwent rapid population growth as it spread globally.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1810053115DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6130405PMC
September 2018

Investigating zoonotic infection barriers to ape Plasmodium parasites using faecal DNA analysis.

Int J Parasitol 2018 06 21;48(7):531-542. Epub 2018 Feb 21.

Department of Medicine, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA; Department of Microbiology, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA. Electronic address:

African apes are endemically infected with numerous Plasmodium spp. including close relatives of human Plasmodium falciparum, Plasmodium vivax, Plasmodium ovale, and Plasmodium malariae. Although these ape parasites are not believed to pose a zoonotic threat, their ability to colonise humans has not been fully explored. In particular, it remains unknown whether ape parasites are able to initiate exo-erythrocytic replication in human hepatocytes following the bite of an infective mosquito. Since animal studies have shown that liver stage infection can result in the excretion of parasite nucleic acids into the bile, we screened faecal samples from 504 rural Cameroonians for Plasmodium DNA. Using pan-Laverania as well as P. malariae- and P. vivax-specific primer sets, we amplified human P. falciparum (n = 14), P. malariae (n = 1), and P. ovale wallikeri (n = 1) mitochondrial sequences from faecal DNA of 15 individuals. However, despite using an intensified PCR screening approach we failed to detect ape Laverania, ape P. vivax or ape P. malariae parasites in these same subjects. One faecal sample from a hunter-gatherer contained a sequence closely related to the porcupine parasite Plasmodium atheruri. Since this same faecal sample also contained porcupine mitochondrial DNA, but a matching blood sample was Plasmodium-negative, it is likely that this hunter-gatherer consumed Plasmodium-infected bushmeat. Faecal Plasmodium detection was not secondary to intestinal bleeding and/or infection with gastrointestinal parasites, but indicative of blood parasitaemia. Quantitative PCR identified 26-fold more parasite DNA in the blood of faecal Plasmodium-positive than faecal Plasmodium-negative individuals (P = 0.01). However, among blood-positive individuals only 10% - 20% had detectable Plasmodium sequences in their stool. Thus, faecal screening of rural Cameroonians failed to uncover abortive ape Plasmodium infections, but detected infection with human parasites, albeit with reduced sensitivity compared with blood analysis.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijpara.2017.12.002DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5971147PMC
June 2018

Wild bonobos host geographically restricted malaria parasites including a putative new Laverania species.

Nat Commun 2017 11 21;8(1):1635. Epub 2017 Nov 21.

Department of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, 19104, USA.

Malaria parasites, though widespread among wild chimpanzees and gorillas, have not been detected in bonobos. Here, we show that wild-living bonobos are endemically Plasmodium infected in the eastern-most part of their range. Testing 1556 faecal samples from 11 field sites, we identify high prevalence Laverania infections in the Tshuapa-Lomami-Lualaba (TL2) area, but not at other locations across the Congo. TL2 bonobos harbour P. gaboni, formerly only found in chimpanzees, as well as a potential new species, Plasmodium lomamiensis sp. nov. Rare co-infections with non-Laverania parasites were also observed. Phylogenetic relationships among Laverania species are consistent with co-divergence with their gorilla, chimpanzee and bonobo hosts, suggesting a timescale for their evolution. The absence of Plasmodium from most field sites could not be explained by parasite seasonality, nor by bonobo population structure, diet or gut microbiota. Thus, the geographic restriction of bonobo Plasmodium reflects still unidentified factors that likely influence parasite transmission.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41467-017-01798-5DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5696340PMC
November 2017