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Reduced evolutionary rates in HIV-1 reveal extensive latency periods among replicating lineages.

  • Author(s): Immonen, Taina T
  • Leitner, Thomas
  • et al.
Abstract

HIV-1 can persist for the duration of a patient's life due in part to its ability to hide from the immune system, and from antiretroviral drugs, in long-lived latent reservoirs. Latent forms of HIV-1 may also be disproportionally involved in transmission. Thus, it is important to detect and quantify latency in the HIV-1 life cycle.We developed a novel molecular clock-based phylogenetic tool to investigate the prevalence of HIV-1 lineages that have experienced latency. The method removes alternative sources that may affect evolutionary rates, such as hypermutation, recombination, and selection, to reveal the contribution of generation-time effects caused by latency. Our method was able to recover latent lineages with high specificity and sensitivity, and low false discovery rates, even on relatively short branches on simulated phylogenies. Applying the tool to HIV-1 sequences from 26 patients, we show that the majority of phylogenetic lineages have been affected by generation-time effects in every patient type, whether untreated, elite controller, or under effective or failing treatment. Furthermore, we discovered extensive effects of latency in sequence data (gag, pol, and env) from reservoirs as well as in the replicating plasma population. To better understand our phylogenetic findings, we developed a dynamic model of virus-host interactions to investigate the proportion of lineages in the actively replicating population that have ever been latent. Assuming neutral evolution, our dynamic modeling showed that under most parameter conditions, it is possible for a few activated latent viruses to propagate so that in time, most HIV-1 lineages will have been latent at some time in their past.These results suggest that cycling in and out of latency plays a major role in the evolution of HIV-1. Thus, no aspect of HIV-1 evolution can be fully understood without considering latency - including treatment, drug resistance, immune evasion, transmission, and pathogenesis.

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