Bayesian Coalescent Analysis of the Intra-Host Evolution of Hepatitis C Virus: Memory Genomes and Clinical Implications


Genetic variability plays a key role in the biology and medical treatment of RNA viruses. As an RNA virus, Hepatitis C virus (HCV) replicate as complex distributions of closely related genomes termed viral quasispecies. The behavior of the evolving HCV quasispecies population is influenced by the ensemble of mutants that compose the viral population. One such influence is the presence of minority subpopulations, termed memory genomes, in the mutant spectra. Biologically relevant mutants have been previously observed to be present as memory genomes in RNA viral populations. For that reason, an in-depth analysis of HCV quasispecies populations is crucial for our understanding viral evolution, drug resistance and therapy outcome. Recently developed next-generation sequencing (NGS) platforms make it possible to investigate viral quasispecies at much greater detail. In order to gain insight into these matters, we have performed a Bayesian coalescent analysis of hypervariable region 1 (HVR1) sequences of a HCV quasispecies population circulating in a chronic patient, recently obtained by ultra-deep sequencing. The results of these studies revealed a mean rate of evolution of HCV HVR1 of the intra-host quasispecies population of 4.80 × 10-2 amino acid substitutions/site/year. A sharp and rapid diversification of the HCV quasispecies isolated from the patient in three different sub-populations was observed. The most abundant sequence in the quasispecies population was not found to be the center of a tight and complex network around this sequence, suggesting that the quasispecies population as a whole efficiently explore a wide sequence space. Co-evolution of relevant amino acid sites had been identified in the HVR1. This speaks of the possible roll of these residues in HVR1 to allow the virus to shift between combinations of residues to escape the immune system while retaining its structure and functions. The results of these studies highlight the importance of minority genomes in HCV population history and evolution, the mutant clouds as reservoirs of phenotypic and genetic variants for virus adaptability, as well as the roll of the mutant spectra to overcome selective constraints.

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Recarey, R. and Cristina, J. (2014) Bayesian Coalescent Analysis of the Intra-Host Evolution of Hepatitis C Virus: Memory Genomes and Clinical Implications. Natural Science, 6, 615-627. doi: 10.4236/ns.2014.69061.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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