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Journal Articles PLoS Pathogens Year : 2009

Molecular mechanisms of recombination restriction in the envelope gene of the human immunodeficiency virus


The ability of pathogens to escape the host's immune response is crucial for the establishment of persistent infections and can influence virulence. Recombination has been observed to contribute to this process by generating novel genetic variants. Although distinctive recombination patterns have been described in many viral pathogens, little is known about the influence of biases in the recombination process itself relative to selective forces acting on newly formed recombinants. Understanding these influences is important for determining how recombination contributes to pathogen genome and proteome evolution. Most previous research on recombination-driven protein evolution has focused on relatively simple proteins, usually in the context of directed evolution experiments. Here, we study recombination in the envelope gene of HIV-1 between primary isolates belonging to subtypes that recombine naturally in the HIV/AIDS pandemic. By characterizing the early steps in the generation of recombinants, we provide novel insights into the evolutionary forces that shape recombination patterns within viral populations. Specifically, we show that the combined effects of mechanistic processes that determine the locations of recombination breakpoints across the HIV-1 envelope gene, and purifying selection acting against dysfunctional recombinants, can explain almost the entire distribution of breakpoints found within this gene in nature. These constraints account for the surprising paucity of recombination breakpoints found in infected individuals within this highly variable gene. Thus, the apparent randomness of HIV evolution via recombination may in fact be relatively more predictable than anticipated. In addition, the dominance of purifying selection in localized areas of the HIV genome defines regions where functional constraints on recombinants appear particularly strong, pointing to vulnerable aspects of HIV biology. Author Summary Recombination allows mixing portions of genomes of different origins, generating chimeric genes and genomes. With respect to the random generation of new mutations, it can lead to the simultaneous insertion of several substitutions, introducing more drastic changes in the genome. Furthermore, recombination is expected to yield a higher proportion of functional products since it combines variants that already exist in the population and that are therefore compatible with the survival of the organism. However, when recombination involves genetically distant strains, it can be constrained by the necessity to retain the functionality of the resulting products. In pathogens, which are subjected to strong selective pressures, recombination is particularly important, and several viruses, such as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), readily recombine. Here, we demonstrate the existence of preferential regions for recombination in the HIV-1 envelope gene when crossing sequences representative of strains observed to recombine in vivo. Furthermore, some recombinants give a decreased proportion of functional products. When considering these factors, one can retrace the history of most natural HIV recombinants. Recombination in HIV appears not so unpredictable, therefore, and the existence of recombinants that frequently generate nonfunctional products highlights previously unappreciated limits of the genetic flexibility of HIV.
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Dates and versions

hal-00484470 , version 1 (03-02-2023)





Etienne Simon-Loriere, Roman Galetto, Meriem Hamoudi, John Archer, Pierre Lefeuvre, et al.. Molecular mechanisms of recombination restriction in the envelope gene of the human immunodeficiency virus. PLoS Pathogens, 2009, 5 (5), pp.e1000418. ⟨10.1371/journal.ppat.1000418⟩. ⟨hal-00484470⟩
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