Recombination Enhances HIV-1 Envelope Diversity by Facilitating the Survival of Latent Genomic Fragments in the Plasma Virus Population

Taina T. Immonen, Jessica M. Conway, Ethan O. Romero-Severson, Alan S. Perelson, Thomas Leitner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


HIV-1 is subject to immune pressure exerted by the host, giving variants that escape the immune response an advantage. Virus released from activated latent cells competes against variants that have continually evolved and adapted to host immune pressure. Nevertheless, there is increasing evidence that virus displaying a signal of latency survives in patient plasma despite having reduced fitness due to long-term immune memory. We investigated the survival of virus with latent envelope genomic fragments by simulating within-host HIV-1 sequence evolution and the cycling of viral lineages in and out of the latent reservoir. Our model incorporates a detailed mutation process including nucleotide substitution, recombination, latent reservoir dynamics, diversifying selection pressure driven by the immune response, and purifying selection pressure asserted by deleterious mutations. We evaluated the ability of our model to capture sequence evolution in vivo by comparing our simulated sequences to HIV-1 envelope sequence data from 16 HIV-infected untreated patients. Empirical sequence divergence and diversity measures were qualitatively and quantitatively similar to those of our simulated HIV-1 populations, suggesting that our model invokes realistic trends of HIV-1 genetic evolution. Moreover, reconstructed phylogenies of simulated and patient HIV-1 populations showed similar topological structures. Our simulation results suggest that recombination is a key mechanism facilitating the persistence of virus with latent envelope genomic fragments in the productively infected cell population. Recombination increased the survival probability of latent virus forms approximately 13-fold. Prevalence of virus with latent fragments in productively infected cells was observed in only 2% of simulations when we ignored recombination, while the proportion increased to 27% of simulations when we allowed recombination. We also found that the selection pressures exerted by different fitness landscapes influenced the shape of phylogenies, diversity trends, and survival of virus with latent genomic fragments. Our model predicts that the persistence of latent genomic fragments from multiple different ancestral origins increases sequence diversity in plasma for reasonable fitness landscapes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1004625
JournalPLoS computational biology
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Ecology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics


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