Publications by authors named "Rachele Cagliani"

103 Publications

Alternation between taxonomically divergent hosts is not the major determinant of flavivirus evolution.

Virus Evol 2021 Jan 21;7(1):veab040. Epub 2021 Apr 21.

Scientific Institute IRCCS E. MEDEA, Bioinformatics, Bosisio Parini 23842, Italy.

Flaviviruses display diverse epidemiological and ecological features. Tick-borne and mosquito-borne flaviviruses (TBFV and MBFV, respectively) are important human pathogens that alternate replication in invertebrate vectors and vertebrate hosts. The genus also includes insect-specific viruses (ISFVs) and viruses with unknown invertebrate hosts. It is generally accepted that viruses that alternate between taxonomically different hosts evolve slowly and that the evolution of MBFVs and TBFVs is dominated by strong constraints, with limited episodes of positive selection. We exploited the availability of flavivirus genomes to test these hypotheses and to compare their rates and patterns of evolution. We estimated the substitution rates of CFAV and CxFV (two ISFVs) and, by taking into account the time-frame of measurement, compared them with those of other flaviviruses. Results indicated that CFAV and CxFV display relatively different substitution rates. However, these data, together with estimates for single-host members of the family, indicated that MBFVs do not display relatively slower evolution. Conversely, TBFVs displayed some of lowest substitution rates among flaviviruses. Analysis of selective patterns over longer evolutionary time-frames confirmed that MBFVs evolve under strong purifying selection. Interestingly, TBFVs and ISFVs did not show extremely different levels of constraint, although TBFVs alternate among hosts, whereas ISFVs do not. Additional results showed that episodic positive selection drove the evolution of MBFVs, despite their high constraint. Positive selection was also detected on two branches of the TBFVs phylogeny that define the seabird clade. Thus, positive selection was much more common during the evolution of arthropod-borne flaviviruses than previously thought. Overall, our data indicate that flavivirus evolutionary patterns are complex and most likely determined by multiple factors, not limited to the alternation between taxonomically divergent hosts. The frequency of both positive and purifying selection, especially in MBFVs, suggests that a minority of sites in the viral polyprotein experience weak constraint and can evolve to generate new viral phenotypes and possibly promote adaptation to new hosts.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ve/veab040DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8093920PMC
January 2021

Chromosomally integrated human herpesvirus 6 (ci-HHV-6) in autologous bone marrow transplant recipients: are we missing a reactivation or is it just mimicking?

J Clin Virol 2021 Jun 16;139:104823. Epub 2021 Apr 16.

Fondazione IRCCS Ca' Granda Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico, Infectious Diseases Unit, Departement of Internal Medicine, Milan, Italy; Università degli Studi di Milano, Department of Pathophysiology and Transplantation, Milan, Italy. Fondazione IRCCS Ca' Granda Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico.

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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jcv.2021.104823DOI Listing
June 2021

Genetic Variability of Human Cytomegalovirus Clinical Isolates Correlates With Altered Expression of Natural Killer Cell-Activating Ligands and IFN-γ.

Front Immunol 2021 9;12:532484. Epub 2021 Apr 9.

Laboratory of Pathogenesis of Viral Infections, Department of Public Health and Pediatric Sciences, University of Turin, Turin, Italy.

Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) infection often leads to systemic disease in immunodeficient patients and congenitally infected children. Despite its clinical significance, the exact mechanisms contributing to HCMV pathogenesis and clinical outcomes have yet to be determined. One of such mechanisms involves HCMV-mediated NK cell immune response, which favors viral immune evasion by hindering NK cell-mediated cytolysis. This process appears to be dependent on the extent of HCMV genetic variation as high levels of variability in viral genes involved in immune escape have an impact on viral pathogenesis. However, the link between viral genome variations and their functional effects has so far remained elusive. Thus, here we sought to determine whether inter-host genetic variability of HCMV influences its ability to modulate NK cell responses to infection. For this purpose, five HCMV clinical isolates from a previously characterized cohort of pediatric patients with confirmed HCMV congenital infection were evaluated by next-generation sequencing (NGS) for genetic polymorphisms, phylogenetic relationships, and multiple-strain infection. We report variable levels of genetic characteristics among the selected clinical strains, with moderate variations in genome regions associated with modulation of NK cell functions. Remarkably, we show that different HCMV clinical strains differentially modulate the expression of several ligands for the NK cell-activating receptors NKG2D, DNAM-1/CD226, and NKp30. Specifically, the DNAM-1/CD226 ligand PVR/CD155 appears to be predominantly upregulated by fast-replicating ("aggressive") HCMV isolates. On the other hand, the NGK2D ligands ULBP2/5/6 are downregulated regardless of the strain used, while other NK cell ligands (i.e., MICA, MICB, ULBP3, Nectin-2/CD112, and B7-H6) are not significantly modulated. Furthermore, we show that IFN-γ; production by NK cells co-cultured with HCMV-infected fibroblasts is directly proportional to the aggressiveness of the HCMV clinical isolates employed. Interestingly, loss of NK cell-modulating genes directed against NK cell ligands appears to be a common feature among the "aggressive" HCMV strains, which also share several gene variants across their genomes. Overall, even though further studies based on a higher number of patients would offer a more definitive scenario, our findings provide novel mechanistic insights into the impact of HCMV genetic variability on NK cell-mediated immune responses.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fimmu.2021.532484DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8062705PMC
April 2021

Kinetochore proteins and microtubule-destabilizing factors are fast evolving in eutherian mammals.

Mol Ecol 2021 03 5;30(6):1505-1515. Epub 2021 Feb 5.

Bioinformatics, Scientific Institute IRCCS E. MEDEA, Bosisio Parini, Italy.

Centromeres have central functions in chromosome segregation, but centromeric DNA and centromere-binding proteins evolve rapidly in most eukaryotes. The selective pressure(s) underlying the fast evolution of centromere-binding proteins are presently unknown. An attractive possibility is that selfish centromeres promote their preferential inclusion in the oocyte and centromeric proteins evolve to suppress meiotic drive (centromere drive hypothesis). We analysed the selective patterns of mammalian genes that encode kinetochore proteins and microtubule (MT)-destabilizing factors. We show that several of these proteins evolve at the same rate or faster than proteins with a role in centromere specification. Elements of the kinetochore that bind MTs or that bridge the interaction between MTs and the centromere represented the major targets of positive selection. These data are in line with the possibility that the genetic conflict fuelled by meiotic drive extends beyond genes involved in centromere specification. However, we cannot exclude that different selective pressures underlie the rapid evolution of MT-destabilizing factors and kinetochore components. Whatever the nature of such pressures, they must have been constant during the evolution of eutherian mammals, as we found a surprisingly good correlation in dN/dS (ratio of the rate of nonsynonymous and synonymous substitutions) across orders/clades. Finally, when phylogenetic relationships were accounted for, we found little evidence that the evolutionary rates of these genes change with testes size, a proxy for sperm competition. Our data indicate that, in analogy to centromeric proteins, kinetochore components are fast evolving in mammals. This observation may imply that centromere drive plays out at multiple levels or that these proteins adapt to lineage-specific centromeric features.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/mec.15812DOI Listing
March 2021

Antigenic variation of SARS-CoV-2 in response to immune pressure.

Mol Ecol 2020 Dec 2. Epub 2020 Dec 2.

Scientific Institute IRCCS E. MEDEA, Bioinformatics, Bosisio Parini, Italy.

Analysis of the bat viruses most closely related to SARS-CoV-2 indicated that the virus probably required limited adaptation to spread in humans. Nonetheless, since its introduction in human populations, SARS-CoV-2 must have been subject to the selective pressure imposed by the human immune system. We exploited the availability of a large number of high-quality SARS-CoV-2 genomes, as well as of validated epitope predictions, to show that B cell epitopes in the spike glycoprotein (S) and in the nucleocapsid protein (N) have higher diversity than nonepitope positions. Similar results were obtained for other human coronaviruses and for sarbecoviruses sampled in bats. Conversely, in the SARS-CoV-2 population, epitopes for CD4 and CD8 T cells were not more variable than nonepitope positions. A significant reduction in epitope variability was instead observed for some of the most immunogenic proteins (S, N, ORF8 and ORF3a). Analysis over longer evolutionary time frames indicated that this effect is not due to differential constraints. These data indicate that SARS-CoV-2 evolves to elude the host humoral immune response, whereas recognition by T cells is not actively avoided by the virus. However, we also found a trend of lower diversity of T cell epitopes for common cold coronaviruses, indicating that epitope conservation per se is not directly linked to disease severity. We suggest that conservation serves to maintain epitopes that elicit tolerizing T cell responses or induce T cells with regulatory activity.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/mec.15730DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7753431PMC
December 2020

Recombination and Positive Selection Differentially Shaped the Diversity of Subgenera.

Viruses 2020 11 16;12(11). Epub 2020 Nov 16.

Scientific Institute IRCCS E. MEDEA, Bioinformatics, 23842 Bosisio Parini, Italy.

The genus of mammal-infecting viruses includes three subgenera (, and , in which most known human coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2, cluster. Coronaviruses are prone to host shifts, with recombination and positive selection possibly contributing to their high zoonotic potential. We analyzed the role of these two forces in the evolution of viruses belonging to the genus. The results showed that recombination has been pervasive during sarbecovirus evolution, and it is more widespread in this subgenus compared to the other two. In both sarbecoviruses and merbecoviruses, recombination hotspots are clearly observed. Conversely, positive selection was a less prominent force in sarbecoviruses compared to embecoviruses and merbecoviruses and targeted distinct genomic regions in the three subgenera, with S being the major target in sarbecoviruses alone. Overall, the results herein indicate that subgenera evolved along different trajectories, which might recapitulate their host preferences or reflect the origins of the presently available coronavirus sequences.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/v12111313DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7698105PMC
November 2020

Evolutionary analysis of exogenous and integrated HHV-6A/HHV-6B populations.

Virus Evol 2020 Jan 30;6(1):veaa035. Epub 2020 Apr 30.

Bioinformatics, Scientific Institute IRCCS E. MEDEA, 23842 Bosisio Parini, Lecco, Italy.

Human betaherpesviruses 6A and 6B (HHV-6A and HHV-6B) are highly prevalent in human populations. The genomes of these viruses can be stably integrated at the telomeres of human chromosomes and be vertically transmitted (inherited chromosomally integrated HHV-6A/HHV-6B, iciHHV-6A/iciHHV-6B). We reconstructed the population structures of HHV-6A and HHV-6B, showing that HHV-6A diverged less than HHV-6B genomes from the projected common ancestral population. Thus, HHV-6B genomes experienced stronger drift, as also supported by calculation of nucleotide diversity and Tajima's . Analysis of ancestry proportions indicated that HHV-6A exogenous viruses and iciHHV-6A derived most of their genomes from distinct ancestral sources. Conversely, ancestry proportions were similar in exogenous HHV-6B viruses and iciHHV-6B. In line with previous indications, this suggests the distinct exogenous viral populations that originated iciHHV-6B in subjects with European and Asian ancestry are still causing infections in the corresponding geographic areas. Notably, for both iciHHV-6A and iciHHV-6B, we found that European and American sequences tend to have high proportions of ancestry from viral populations that experienced considerable drift, suggesting that they underwent one or more bottlenecks followed by population expansion. Finally, analysis of HHV-6B exogenous viruses sampled in Japan indicated that proportions of ancestry components of most of these viruses are different from the majority of those sampled in the USA. More generally, we show that, in both viral species, both integrated and exogenous viral genomes have different ancestry components, partially depending on geographic location. It would be extremely important to determine whether such differences account for the diversity of HHV-6A/HHV-6B-associated clinical symptoms and epidemiology. Also, the sequencing of additional exogenous and integrated viral genomes will be instrumental to confirm and expand our conclusions, which are based on a relatively small number of genomes, sequenced with variable quality, and with unequal sampling in terms of geographic origin.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ve/veaa035DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7293831PMC
January 2020

Intrinsically disordered regions are abundant in simplexvirus proteomes and display signatures of positive selection.

Virus Evol 2020 Jan 10;6(1):veaa028. Epub 2020 May 10.

Scientific Institute, IRCCS E. MEDEA, Bioinformatics, Bosisio Parini 23842, Italy.

Whereas the majority of herpesviruses co-speciated with their mammalian hosts, human herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2, genus ) most likely originated from the cross-species transmission of chimpanzee herpesvirus 1 to an ancestor of modern humans We exploited the peculiar evolutionary history of HSV-2 to investigate the selective events that drove herpesvirus adaptation to a new host. We show that HSV-2 intrinsically disordered regions (IDRs)-that is, protein domains that do not adopt compact three-dimensional structures-are strongly enriched in positive selection signals. Analysis of viral proteomes indicated that a significantly higher portion of simplexvirus proteins is disordered compared with the proteins of other human herpesviruses. IDR abundance in simplexvirus proteomes was not a consequence of the base composition of their genomes (high G + C content). Conversely, protein function determines the IDR fraction, which is significantly higher in viral proteins that interact with human factors. We also found that the average extent of disorder in herpesvirus proteins tends to parallel that of their human interactors. These data suggest that viruses that interact with fast-evolving, disordered human proteins, in turn, evolve disordered viral interactors poised for innovation. We propose that the high IDR fraction present in simplexvirus proteomes contributes to their wider host range compared with other herpesviruses.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ve/veaa028DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7211401PMC
January 2020

Coding potential and sequence conservation of SARS-CoV-2 and related animal viruses.

Infect Genet Evol 2020 09 5;83:104353. Epub 2020 May 5.

Scientific Institute IRCCS E. MEDEA, Bioinformatics, Bosisio Parini, Italy. Electronic address:

In December 2019, a novel human-infecting coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) was recognized in China. In a few months, SARS-CoV-2 has caused thousands of disease cases and deaths in several countries. Phylogenetic analyses indicated that SARS-CoV-2 clusters with SARS-CoV in the Sarbecovirus subgenus and viruses related to SARS-CoV-2 were identified from bats and pangolins. Coronaviruses have long and complex genomes with high plasticity in terms of gene content. To date, the coding potential of SARS-CoV-2 remains partially unknown. We thus used available sequences of bat and pangolin viruses to determine the selective events that shaped the genome structure of SARS-CoV-2 and to assess its coding potential. By searching for signals of significantly reduced variability at synonymous sites (dS), we identified six genomic regions, one of these corresponding to the programmed -1 ribosomal frameshift. The most prominent signal of dS reduction was observed within the E gene. A genome-wide analysis of conserved RNA structures indicated that this region harbors a putative functional RNA element that is shared with the SARS-CoV lineage. Additional signals of reduced dS indicated the presence of internal ORFs. Whereas the presence ORF9a (internal to N) was previously proposed by homology with a well characterized protein of SARS-CoV, ORF3h (for hypothetical, within ORF3a) was not previously described. The predicted product of ORF3h has 90% identity with the corresponding predicted product of SARS-CoV and displays features suggestive of a viroporin. Finally, analysis of the putative ORF10 revealed high dN/dS (3.82) in SARS-CoV-2 and related coronaviruses. In the SARS-CoV lineage, the ORF is predicted to encode a truncated protein and is neutrally evolving. These data suggest that ORF10 encodes a functional protein in SARS-CoV-2 and that positive selection is driving its evolution. Experimental analyses will be necessary to validate and characterize the coding and non-coding functional elements we identified.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.meegid.2020.104353DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7199688PMC
September 2020

Past and ongoing adaptation of human cytomegalovirus to its host.

PLoS Pathog 2020 05 8;16(5):e1008476. Epub 2020 May 8.

Scientific Institute, IRCCS E. MEDEA, Bioinformatics, Bosisio Parini, Italy.

Cytomegaloviruses (order Herpesvirales) display remarkable species-specificity as a result of long-term co-evolution with their mammalian hosts. Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is exquisitely adapted to our species and displays high genetic diversity. We leveraged information on inter-species divergence of primate-infecting cytomegaloviruses and intra-species diversity of clinical isolates to provide a genome-wide picture of HCMV adaptation across different time-frames. During adaptation to the human host, core viral genes were commonly targeted by positive selection. Functional characterization of adaptive mutations in the primase gene (UL70) indicated that selection favored amino acid replacements that decrease viral replication in human fibroblasts, suggesting evolution towards viral temperance. HCMV intra-species diversity was largely governed by immune system-driven selective pressure, with several adaptive variants located in antigenic domains. A significant excess of positively selected sites was also detected in the signal peptides (SPs) of viral proteins, indicating that, although they are removed from mature proteins, SPs can contribute to viral adaptation. Functional characterization of one of these SPs indicated that adaptive variants modulate the timing of cleavage by the signal peptidase and the dynamics of glycoprotein intracellular trafficking. We thus used evolutionary information to generate experimentally-testable hypotheses on the functional effect of HCMV genetic diversity and we define modulators of viral phenotypes.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008476DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7239485PMC
May 2020

Evolution and Genetic Diversity of Primate Cytomegaloviruses.

Microorganisms 2020 Apr 25;8(5). Epub 2020 Apr 25.

Scientific Institute, IRCCS E. MEDEA, Bioinformatics, 23842 Bosisio Parini, Italy.

Cytomegaloviruses (CMVs) infect many mammals, including humans and non-human primates (NHPs). Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is an important opportunistic pathogen among immunocompromised patients and represents the most common infectious cause of birth defects. HCMV possesses a large genome and very high genetic diversity. NHP-infecting CMVs share with HCMV a similar genomic organization and coding content, as well as the course of viral infection. Recent technological advances have allowed the sequencing of several HCMV strains from clinical samples and provided insight into the diversity of NHP-infecting CMVs. The emerging picture indicates that, with the exclusion of genes (genes that have orthologs in all herpesviruses), CMV genomes are relatively plastic and diverse in terms of gene content, both at the inter- and at the intra-species level. Such variability most likely underlies the strict species-specificity of these viruses, as well as their ability to persist lifelong and with relatively little damage to their hosts. However, genes, despite their strong conservation, also represented a target of adaptive evolution and subtle changes in their coding sequence contributed to CMV adaptation to different hosts. Indubitably, important knowledge gaps remain, the most relevant of which concerns the role of viral genetics in HCMV-associated human disease.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/microorganisms8050624DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7285053PMC
April 2020

Computational Inference of Selection Underlying the Evolution of the Novel Coronavirus, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2.

J Virol 2020 06 1;94(12). Epub 2020 Jun 1.

Scientific Institute IRCCS E. MEDEA, Bioinformatics, Bosisio Parini, Italy.

The novel coronavirus severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) that recently emerged in China is thought to have a bat origin, as its closest known relative (BatCoV RaTG13) was described previously in horseshoe bats. We analyzed the selective events that accompanied the divergence of SARS-CoV-2 from BatCoV RaTG13. To this end, we applied a population genetics-phylogenetics approach, which leverages within-population variation and divergence from an outgroup. Results indicated that most sites in the viral open reading frames (ORFs) evolved under conditions of strong to moderate purifying selection. The most highly constrained sequences corresponded to some nonstructural proteins (nsps) and to the M protein. Conversely, nsp1 and accessory ORFs, particularly ORF8, had a nonnegligible proportion of codons evolving under conditions of very weak purifying selection or close to selective neutrality. Overall, limited evidence of positive selection was detected. The 6 bona fide positively selected sites were located in the N protein, in ORF8, and in nsp1. A signal of positive selection was also detected in the receptor-binding motif (RBM) of the spike protein but most likely resulted from a recombination event that involved the BatCoV RaTG13 sequence. In line with previous data, we suggest that the common ancestor of SARS-CoV-2 and BatCoV RaTG13 encoded/encodes an RBM similar to that observed in SARS-CoV-2 itself and in some pangolin viruses. It is presently unknown whether the common ancestor still exists and, if so, which animals it infects. Our data, however, indicate that divergence of SARS-CoV-2 from BatCoV RaTG13 was accompanied by limited episodes of positive selection, suggesting that the common ancestor of the two viruses was poised for human infection. Coronaviruses are dangerous zoonotic pathogens; in the last 2 decades, three coronaviruses have crossed the species barrier and caused human epidemics. One of these is the recently emerged SARS-CoV-2. We investigated how, since its divergence from a closely related bat virus, natural selection shaped the genome of SARS-CoV-2. We found that distinct coding regions in the SARS-CoV-2 genome evolved under conditions of different degrees of constraint and are consequently more or less prone to tolerate amino acid substitutions. In practical terms, the level of constraint provides indications about which proteins/protein regions are better suited as possible targets for the development of antivirals or vaccines. We also detected limited signals of positive selection in three viral ORFs. However, we warn that, in the absence of knowledge about the chain of events that determined the human spillover, these signals should not be necessarily interpreted as evidence of an adaptation to our species.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1128/JVI.00411-20DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7307108PMC
June 2020

Recent Out-of-Africa Migration of Human Herpes Simplex Viruses.

Mol Biol Evol 2020 05;37(5):1259-1271

Scientific Institute, IRCCS E. MEDEA, Bioinformatics, Lecco, Italy.

Herpes simplex virus types 1 and 2 (HSV-1 and HSV-2) are ubiquitous human pathogens. Both viruses evolved from simplex viruses infecting African primates and they are thus thought to have left Africa during early human migrations. We analyzed the population structure of HSV-1 and HSV-2 circulating strains. Results indicated that HSV-1 populations have limited geographic structure and the most evident clustering by geography is likely due to recent bottlenecks. For HSV-2, the only level of population structure is accounted for by the so-called "worldwide" and "African" lineages. Analysis of ancestry components and nucleotide diversity, however, did not support the view that the worldwide lineage followed early humans during out-of-Africa dispersal. Although phylogeographic analysis confirmed an African origin for both viruses, molecular dating with a method that corrects for the time-dependent rate phenomenon indicated that HSV-1 and HSV-2 migrated from Africa in relatively recent times. In particular, we estimated that the HSV-2 worldwide lineage left the continent in the 18th century, which corresponds to the height of the transatlantic slave trade, possibly explaining the high prevalence of HSV-2 in the Americas (second highest after Africa). The limited geographic clustering of HSV-1 makes it difficult to date its exit from Africa. The split between the basal clade, containing mostly African sequences, and all other strains was dated at ∼5,000 years ago. Our data do not imply that herpes simplex viruses did not infect early humans but show that the worldwide distribution of circulating strains is the result of relatively recent events.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/molbev/msaa001DOI Listing
May 2020

Retraction to: A complex evolutionary relationship between HHV-6A and HHV-6B.

Virus Evol 2019 07 23;5(2):vez054. Epub 2019 Nov 23.

Bioinformatics, Scientific Institute IRCCS E. Medea, Bosisio Parini 23842, Lecco, Italy.

[This retracts the article DOI: 10.1093/ve/vez043.].
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ve/vez054DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6874833PMC
July 2019

Mode and tempo of human hepatitis virus evolution.

Comput Struct Biotechnol J 2019 25;17:1384-1395. Epub 2019 Oct 25.

Bioinformatics, Scientific Institute, IRCCS E. MEDEA, 23842 Bosisio Parini, Lecco, Italy.

Human viral hepatitis, a major cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide, is caused by highly diverse viruses with different genetic, ecological, and pathogenetic features. Technological advances that allow throughput sequencing of viral genomes, as well as the development of computational tools to analyze such genome data, have largely expanded our knowledge on the host range and evolutionary history of human hepatitis viruses. Thus, with the exclusion of hepatitis D virus, close or distant relatives of these human pathogens were identified in a number of domestic and wild mammals. Also, sequences of human viral strains isolated from different geographic locations and over different time-spans have allowed the application of phylogeographic and molecular dating approaches to large viral phylogenies. In this review, we summarize the most recent insights into our understanding of the evolutionary events and ecological contexts that determined the origin and spread of human hepatitis viruses.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.csbj.2019.09.007DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6872792PMC
October 2019

A complex evolutionary relationship between HHV-6A and HHV-6B.

Virus Evol 2019 Jul 20;5(2):vez043. Epub 2019 Oct 20.

Bioinformatics, Scientific Institute IRCCS E. Medea, Bosisio Parini, Lecco, Italy.

Human betaherpesviruses 6A and 6B (HHV-6A and HHV-6B) are highly prevalent in human populations. The genomes of these viruses can be stably integrated at the telomeres of human chromosomes and be vertically transmitted (inherited chromosomally integrated HHV-6, iciHHV6). We reconstructed the population structure of HHV-6 and we show that HHV-6A genomes diverged less than HHV-6B genomes from the ancestral common HHV-6A/B population. Analysis of ancestry proportions indicated that HHV-6A exogenous viruses and iciHHV-6A derived most of their genomes from distinct ancestral sources. Conversely, exogenous viral and iciHHV-6B populations were similar in terms of ancestry components, with no evident geographic structuring. Most HHV-6B genomes sampled to date derive from viral populations that experienced considerable drift. However, a population of HHV-6 exogenous viruses, currently classified as HHV-6B and sampled in New York state, formed a separate cluster (NY cluster) and harbored a considerable portion of HHV-6A-like ancestry. Recombination detection methods identified these viruses as interspecies recombinants, but phylogenetic reconstruction indicated that the recombination signals are due to shared ancestry. In analogy to iciHHV-6A, NY cluster viruses have high nucleotide diversity and constant population size. We propose that HHV-6A sequences and the NY cluster population diverged from an ancestral HHV-6A-like population. A relatively recent bottleneck of the NY (or a related) population with subsequent expansion originated most HHV-6B genomes currently sampled. Our findings indicate that the distinction between HHV-6A and -6B is not as clear-cut as previously thought. More generally, epidemiological and clinical surveys would benefit from taking HHV-6 genetic diversity into account.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ve/vez043DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6800887PMC
July 2019

You Will Never Walk Alone: Codispersal of JC Polyomavirus with Human Populations.

Mol Biol Evol 2020 02;37(2):442-454

Scientific Institute, IRCCS E. MEDEA, Bioinformatics, Bosisio Parini, Lecco, Italy.

JC polyomavirus (JCPyV) is one of the most prevalent human viruses. Findings based on the geographic distribution of viral subtypes suggested that JCPyV codiverged with human populations. This view was however challenged by data reporting a much more recent origin and expansion of JCPyV. We collected information on ∼1,100 worldwide strains and we show that their geographic distribution roughly corresponds to major human migratory routes. Bayesian phylogeographic analysis inferred a Subsaharan origin for JCPyV, although with low posterior probability. High confidence inference at internal nodes provided strong support for a long-standing association between the virus and human populations. In line with these data, pairwise FST values for JCPyV and human mtDNA sampled from the same areas showed a positive and significant correlation. Likewise, very strong relationships were found when node ages in the JCPyV phylogeny were correlated with human population genetic distances (nuclear-marker based FST). Reconciliation analysis detected a significant cophylogenetic signal for the human population and JCPyV trees. Notably, JCPyV also traced some relatively recent migration events such as the expansion of people from the Philippines/Taiwan area into Remote Oceania, the gene flow between North-Eastern Siberian and Ainus, and the Koryak contribution to Circum-Arctic Americans. Finally, different molecular dating approaches dated the origin of JCPyV in a time frame that precedes human out-of-Africa migration. Thus, JCPyV infected early human populations and accompanied our species during worldwide dispersal. JCPyV typing can provide reliable geographic information and the virus most likely adapted to the genetic background of human populations.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/molbev/msz227DOI Listing
February 2020

Possible European Origin of Circulating Varicella Zoster Virus Strains.

J Infect Dis 2020 03;221(8):1286-1294

Istituto di ricovero e cura a carattere scientifico (IRCCS) E. Medea, Bioinformatics, Bosisio Parini, Milan, Italy.

Varicella zoster virus (VZV) is the causative agent of chickenpox and shingles. The geographic distribution of VZV clades was taken as evidence that VZV migrated out of Africa with human populations. We show that extant VZV strains most likely originated in Europe and not in Africa. Europe was also identified as the ancestral location for most internal nodes of the VZV phylogeny, including the ancestor of clade 5 strains. We also show that strains from clades 1, 2, 3, and 5 derived a major proportion of their ancestry from each of 4 ancestral populations. Conversely, viruses from other clades displayed variable levels of admixture. Some low-level admixture was also observed for clade 5 genomes, but only for non-African viruses. This pattern indicates that the clade 5 VZV strains do not represent recent introductions from Africa due to migratory fluxes. These data have also relevance for the definition and classification of VZV clades.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/infdis/jiz227DOI Listing
March 2020

Genetic conflicts with Plasmodium parasites and functional constraints shape the evolution of erythrocyte cytoskeletal proteins.

Sci Rep 2018 10 2;8(1):14682. Epub 2018 Oct 2.

Bioinformatics, Scientific Institute, IRCCS E. Medea, 23842, Bosisio Parini, Lecco, Italy.

Plasmodium parasites exerted a strong selective pressure on primate genomes and mutations in genes encoding erythrocyte cytoskeleton proteins (ECP) determine protective effects against Plasmodium infection/pathogenesis. We thus hypothesized that ECP-encoding genes have evolved in response to Plasmodium-driven selection. We analyzed the evolutionary history of 15 ECP-encoding genes in primates, as well as of their Plasmodium-encoded ligands (KAHRP, MESA and EMP3). Results indicated that EPB42, SLC4A1, and SPTA1 evolved under pervasive positive selection and that episodes of positive selection tended to occur more frequently in primate species that host a larger number of Plasmodium parasites. Conversely, several genes, including ANK1 and SPTB, displayed extensive signatures of purifying selection in primate phylogenies, Homininae lineages, and human populations, suggesting strong functional constraints. Analysis of Plasmodium genes indicated adaptive evolution in MESA and KAHRP; in the latter, different positively selected sites were located in the spectrin-binding domains. Because most of the positively selected sites in alpha-spectrin localized to the domains involved in the interaction with KAHRP, we suggest that the two proteins are engaged in an arms-race scenario. This observation is relevant because KAHRP is essential for the formation of "knobs", which represent a major virulence determinant for P. falciparum.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-33049-yDOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6168477PMC
October 2018

The Diversity of Mammalian Hemoproteins and Microbial Heme Scavengers Is Shaped by an Arms Race for Iron Piracy.

Front Immunol 2018 11;9:2086. Epub 2018 Sep 11.

Scientific Institute, IRCCS E. Medea, Bioinformatics, Lecco, Italy.

Iron is an essential micronutrient for most living species. In mammals, hemoglobin (Hb) stores more than two thirds of the body's iron content. In the bloodstream, haptoglobin (Hp) and hemopexin (Hpx) sequester free Hb or heme. Pathogenic microorganisms usually acquire iron from their hosts and have evolved complex systems of iron piracy to circumvent nutritional immunity. Herein, we performed an evolutionary analysis of genes coding for mammalian heme-binding proteins and heme-scavengers in pathogen species. The underlying hypothesis is that these molecules are engaged in a molecular arms race. We show that positive selection drove the evolution of mammalian Hb and Hpx. Positively selected sites in Hb are located at the interaction surface with heme scavenger HpuA and with iron-regulated surface determinant B (IsdB). In turn, positively selected sites in HpuA and IsdB are located in the flexible protein regions that contact Hb. A residue in Hb (S45H) was also selected on the Caprinae branch. This site stabilizes the interaction with hemoglobin-haptoglobin (HbHp) receptor (HpHbR), a molecule that also mediates trypanosome lytic factor (TLF) entry. In HpHbR, positive selection drove the evolution of a variant (L210S) which allows evasion from TLF but reduces affinity for HbHp. Finally, selected sites in Hpx are located at the interaction surface with the hemophore HxuA, which in turn displays fast evolving sites at the Hpx-binding interface. These results shed light into host-pathogens conflicts and establish the importance of nutritional immunity as an evolutionary force.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fimmu.2018.02086DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6142043PMC
September 2019

Strategy of Human Cytomegalovirus To Escape Interferon Beta-Induced APOBEC3G Editing Activity.

J Virol 2018 10 12;92(19). Epub 2018 Sep 12.

Department of Public Health and Pediatric Sciences, University of Turin, Turin, Italy

The apolipoprotein B editing enzyme catalytic subunit 3 (APOBEC3) is a family of DNA cytosine deaminases that mutate and inactivate viral genomes by single-strand DNA editing, thus providing an innate immune response against a wide range of DNA and RNA viruses. In particular, APOBEC3A (A3A), a member of the APOBEC3 family, is induced by human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) in decidual tissues where it efficiently restricts HCMV replication, thereby acting as an intrinsic innate immune effector at the maternal-fetal interface. However, the widespread incidence of congenital HCMV infection implies that HCMV has evolved to counteract APOBEC3-induced mutagenesis through mechanisms that still remain to be fully established. Here, we have assessed gene expression and deaminase activity of various APOBEC3 gene family members in HCMV-infected primary human foreskin fibroblasts (HFFs). Specifically, we show that APOBEC3G (A3G) gene products and, to a lesser degree, those of A3F but not of A3A, are upregulated in HCMV-infected HFFs. We also show that HCMV-mediated induction of A3G expression is mediated by interferon beta (IFN-β), which is produced early during HCMV infection. However, knockout or overexpression of A3G does not affect HCMV replication, indicating that A3G is not a restriction factor for HCMV. Finally, through a bioinformatics approach, we show that HCMV has evolved mutational robustness against IFN-β by limiting the presence of A3G hot spots in essential open reading frames (ORFs) of its genome. Overall, our findings uncover a novel immune evasion strategy by HCMV with profound implications for HCMV infections. APOBEC3 family of proteins plays a pivotal role in intrinsic immunity defense mechanisms against multiple viral infections, including retroviruses, through the deamination activity. However, the currently available data on APOBEC3 editing mechanisms upon HCMV infection remain unclear. In the present study, we show that particularly the APOBEC3G (A3G) member of the deaminase family is strongly induced upon infection with HCMV in fibroblasts and that its upregulation is mediated by IFN-β. Furthermore, we were able to demonstrate that neither A3G knockout nor A3G overexpression appears to modulate HCMV replication, indicating that A3G does not inhibit HCMV replication. This may be explained by HCMV escape strategy from A3G activity through depletion of the preferred nucleotide motifs (hot spots) from its genome. The results may shed light on antiviral potential of APOBEC3 activity during HCMV infection, as well as the viral counteracting mechanisms under A3G-mediated selective pressure.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1128/JVI.01224-18DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6146821PMC
October 2018

Analysis of Reptarenavirus genomes indicates different selective forces acting on the S and L segments and recent expansion of common genotypes.

Infect Genet Evol 2018 10 30;64:212-218. Epub 2018 Jun 30.

Bioinformatics, Scientific Institute IRCCS E. MEDEA, 23842, Bosisio Parini, Italy.

Reptarenaviruses, a genus of snake-infecting viruses belonging to the family Arenaviridae, have bi-segmented genomes. The long (L) segment encodes the Z and L (RNA polymerase) proteins, whereas the short (S) segment codes for the glycoprotein precursor (GPC) and for the nucleoprotein (NP). Presently, reptarenaviruses have only been described in captive snakes. In these animals, mixed infections are common and most infected reptiles harbor multiple S and/or L segment genotypes. Within single animals, L segments are more genetically diverse than S segments and one S segment genotype (S6) was detected in the majority of snakes. Whether the unbalanced L to S segment ratio is due to stochastic events, to distinct replication/packaging efficiencies, or to differential selective pressure is presently unknown. We addressed these open questions by analyzing the ancient and recent evolutionary history of reptarenavirus genomes. Results indicated that purifying selection shaped the bulk of reptarenavirus coding sequences, although selective constraint was stronger for NP and L compared to GPC. During the divergence of reptarenavirus genomes, episodic positive selection contributed to the evolution of the viral polymerase, an observation that parallels those on mammarenaviruses. Population genetics analyses indicated that the most common S and L segment genotypes (including S6) display markedly negative Tajima's D values, but not low nucleotide diversity, suggesting recent population expansion. In conclusion, our data indicate that the selective pressures were stronger for the L segment than for the S segment, at least during reptarenavirus genotype divergence. More recently, the population sizes of some L and S segment genotypes expanded, suggesting that they out-competed the other genotypes, which show D values consistent with constant or decreasing population size. Competition among segments may have driven the disappearance of some S segment genotypes from wild and/or captive snake populations, eventually leading to the observed L to S imbalance.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.meegid.2018.06.031DOI Listing
October 2018

Evolutionary rates of mammalian telomere-stability genes correlate with karyotype features and female germline expression.

Nucleic Acids Res 2018 08;46(14):7153-7168

Bioinformatics, Scientific Institute IRCCS E. MEDEA, 23842 Bosisio Parini, Italy.

Telomeres protect the ends of eukaryotic chromosomes and are essential for cell viability. In mammals, telomere dynamics vary with life history traits (e.g. body mass and longevity), suggesting differential selection depending on physiological characteristics. Telomeres, in analogy to centromeric regions, also represent candidate meiotic drivers and subtelomeric DNA evolves rapidly. We analyzed the evolutionary history of mammalian genes implicated in telomere homeostasis (TEL genes). We detected widespread positive selection and we tested two alternative hypotheses: (i) fast evolution is driven by changes in life history traits; (ii) a conflict with selfish DNA elements at the female meiosis represents the underlying selective pressure. By accounting for the phylogenetic relationships among mammalian species, we show that life history traits do not contribute to shape diversity of TEL genes. Conversely, the evolutionary rate of TEL genes correlates with expression levels during meiosis and episodes of positive selection across mammalian species are associated with karyotype features (number of chromosome arms). We thus propose a telomere drive hypothesis, whereby (sub)telomeres and telomere-binding proteins are engaged in an intra-genomic conflict similar to the one described for centromeres.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/nar/gky494DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6101625PMC
August 2018

The influence of DCDC2 risk genetic variants on reading: Testing main and haplotypic effects.

Neuropsychologia 2019 07 24;130:52-58. Epub 2018 May 24.

Child Psychopathology Unit, Scientific Institute, IRCCS Eugenio Medea, Bosisio Parini, Italy. Electronic address:

Developmental dyslexia (DD) is a complex neurodevelopmental heritable disorder. Among DD candidate genes, DCDC2 is one of the most replicated, with rs793862, READ1 and rs793842 likely contribute to phenotypic variability in reading (dis)ability. In this study, we tested the effects of these genetic variants on DD as a categorical trait and on quantitative reading-related measures in a sample of 555 Italian nuclear families with 930 offspring, of which 687 were diagnosed with DD. We conducted both single-marker and haplotype analyses, finding that the READ1-deletion was significantly associated with reading, whereas no significant haplotype associations were found. Our findings add further evidence to support the hypothesis of a DCDC2 contribution to inter-individual variation in distinct indicators of reading (dis)ability in transparent languages (i.e., reading accuracy and speed), suggesting a potential pleiotropic effect.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2018.05.021DOI Listing
July 2019

Evolutionary Analysis Provides Insight Into the Origin and Adaptation of HCV.

Front Microbiol 2018 1;9:854. Epub 2018 May 1.

Bioinformatics Laboratory, Scientific Institute IRCCS E.Medea, Bosisio Parini, Italy.

Hepatitis C virus (HCV) belongs to the genus and is genetically heterogeneous, with seven major genotypes further divided into several recognized subtypes. HCV origin was previously dated in a range between ∼200 and 1000 years ago. Hepaciviruses have been identified in several domestic and wild mammals, the largest viral diversity being observed in bats and rodents. The closest relatives of HCV were found in horses/donkeys (equine hepaciviruses, EHV). However, the origin of HCV as a human pathogen is still an unsolved puzzle. Using a selection-informed evolutionary model, we show that the common ancestor of extant HCV genotypes existed at least 3000 years ago (CI: 3192-5221 years ago), with the oldest genotypes being endemic to Asia. EHV originated around 1100 CE (CI: 291-1640 CE). These time estimates exclude that EHV transmission was mainly sustained by widespread veterinary practices and suggest that HCV originated from a single zoonotic event with subsequent diversification in human populations. We also describe a number of biologically important sites in the major HCV genotypes that have been positively selected and indicate that drug resistance-associated variants are significantly enriched at positively selected sites. HCV exploits several cell-surface molecules for cell entry, but only two of these (CD81 and OCLN) determine the species-specificity of infection. Herein evolutionary analyses do not support a long-standing association between primates and hepaciviruses, and signals of positive selection at CD81 were only observed in Chiroptera. No evidence of selection was detected for OCLN in any mammalian order. These results shed light on the origin of HCV and provide a catalog of candidate genetic modulators of HCV phenotypic diversity.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2018.00854DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5938362PMC
May 2018

Ancient Evolution of Mammarenaviruses: Adaptation via Changes in the L Protein and No Evidence for Host-Virus Codivergence.

Genome Biol Evol 2018 03;10(3):863-874

Bioinformatics, Scientific Institute IRCCS E. MEDEA, Bosisio Parini, Italy.

The Mammarenavirus genus includes several pathogenic species of rodent-borne viruses. Old World (OW) mammarenaviruses infect rodents in the Murinae subfamily and are mainly transmitted in Africa and Asia; New World (NW) mammarenaviruses are found in rodents of the Cricetidae subfamily in the Americas. We applied a selection-informed method to estimate that OW and NW mammarenaviruses diverged less than ∼45,000 years ago (ya). By incorporating phylogeographic inference, we show that NW mammarenaviruses emerged in the Latin America-Caribbean region ∼41,400-3,300 ya, whereas OW mammarenaviruses originated ∼23,100-1,880 ya, most likely in Southern Africa. Cophylogenetic analysis indicated that cospeciation did not contribute significantly to mammarenavirus-host associations. Finally, we show that extremely strong selective pressure on the viral polymerase accompanied the speciation of NW viruses. These data suggest that the evolutionary history of mammarenaviruses was not driven by codivergence with their hosts. The viral polymerase should be regarded as a major determinant of mammarenavirus adaptation.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/gbe/evy050DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5863214PMC
March 2018

Origin and dispersal of Hepatitis E virus.

Emerg Microbes Infect 2018 Feb 7;7(1):11. Epub 2018 Feb 7.

Scientific Institute IRCCS E. MEDEA, Bosisio Parini, 23842, Italy.

Hepatitis E virus (HEV, genus Orthohepevirus) is a common cause of hepatitis worldwide. Human-infecting HEV strains (Orthohepevirus A) include human-restricted and enzootic genotypes. Viruses in the Orthohepevirus A species also infect rabbits (HEV-3ra), camels, and swine. Using a selection-informed method, we dated the origin of the Orthohepevirus genus at least 21 million years ago, whereas the Orthohepevirus A species originated in Asia, most likely from a human-infecting ancestor that existed ~4500 to 6800 years ago. In this period, the appearance of large human settlements probably facilitated HEV emergence and spread. The earliest events in Orthohepevirus A evolutionary history involved the separation of the enzootic and human-restricted genotypes, as well as the split of the camel-infecting genotypes, which occurred during the time-frame of camel domestication. The place and timing of HEV-3ra divergence also correspond to the circumstances of rabbit domestication. This study clarifies the origin and historical events underlying HEV dispersal.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41426-017-0009-6DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5837148PMC
February 2018

REST, a master regulator of neurogenesis, evolved under strong positive selection in humans and in non human primates.

Sci Rep 2017 08 25;7(1):9530. Epub 2017 Aug 25.

Bioinformatics, Scientific Institute IRCCS E. MEDEA, 23842, Bosisio Parini, Italy.

The transcriptional repressor REST regulates many neuronal genes by binding RE1 motifs. About one third of human RE1s are recently evolved and specific to primates. As changes in the activity of a transcription factor reverberate on its downstream targets, we assessed whether REST displays fast evolutionary rates in primates. We show that REST was targeted by very strong positive selection during primate evolution. Positive selection was also evident in the human lineage, with six selected sites located in a region that surrounds a VNTR in exon 4. Analysis of expression data indicated that REST brain expression peaks during aging in humans but not in other primates. Because a REST coding variant (rs3796529) was previously associated with protection from hippocampal atrophy in elderly subjects with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), we analyzed a cohort of Alzheimer disease (AD) continuum patients. Genotyping of two coding variants (rs3796529 and rs2227902) located in the region surrounding the VNTR indicated a role for rs2227902 in modulation of hippocampal volume loss, indirectly confirming a role for REST in neuroprotection. Experimental studies will be instrumental to determine the functional effect of positively selected sites in REST and the role of REST variants in neuropreservation/neurodegeneration.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-10245-wDOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5573535PMC
August 2017

Evolutionary analysis of Old World arenaviruses reveals a major adaptive contribution of the viral polymerase.

Mol Ecol 2017 Oct 5;26(19):5173-5188. Epub 2017 Sep 5.

Bioinformatics, Scientific Institute IRCCS E. MEDEA, Bosisio Parini, Italy.

The Old World (OW) arenavirus complex includes several species of rodent-borne viruses, some of which (i.e., Lassa virus, LASV and Lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus, LCMV) cause human diseases. Most LCMV and LASV infections are caused by rodent-to-human transmissions. Thus, viral evolution is largely determined by events that occur in the wildlife reservoirs. We used a set of human- and rodent-derived viral sequences to investigate the evolutionary history underlying OW arenavirus speciation, as well as the more recent selective events that accompanied LASV spread in West Africa. We show that the viral RNA polymerase (L protein) was a major positive selection target in OW arenaviruses and during LASV out-of-Nigeria migration. No evidence of selection was observed for the glycoprotein, whereas positive selection acted on the nucleoprotein (NP) during LCMV speciation. Positively selected sites in L and NP are surrounded by highly conserved residues, and the bulk of the viral genome evolves under purifying selection. Several positively selected sites are likely to modulate viral replication/transcription. In both L and NP, structural features (solvent exposed surface area) are important determinants of site-wise evolutionary rate variation. By incorporating several rodent-derived sequences, we also performed an analysis of OW arenavirus codon adaptation to the human host. Results do not support a previously hypothesized role of codon adaptation in disease severity for non-Nigerian strains. In conclusion, L and NP represent the major selection targets and possible determinants of disease presentation; these results suggest that field surveys and experimental studies should primarily focus on these proteins.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/mec.14282DOI Listing
October 2017