BackgroundDengue virus (DENV) infection represents a significant public health problem in many subtropical and tropical countries. Although genetically closely related, the four serotypes of DENV differ in antigenicity for which cross protection among serotypes is limited. It is also believed that both multi-serotype infection as well as the evolution of viral antigenicity may have confounding effects in increased dengue epidemics. Numerous studies have been performed that investigated genetic diversity of DENV, but the precise mechanism(s) of dengue virus evolution are not well understood.
ResultsWe investigated genome-wide genetic diversity and nucleotide substitution patterns in the four serotypes among samples collected from different countries in Asia and Central and South America and sequenced as part of the Genome Sequencing Center for Infectious Diseases at the Broad Institute. We applied bioinformatics, statistical and coalescent simulation methods to investigate diversity of codon sequences of DENV samples representing the four serotypes. We show that fixation of nucleotide substitutions is more prominent among the inter-continental isolates (Asian and American) of serotypes 1, 2 and 3 compared to serotype 4 isolates (South and Central America) and are distributed in a non-random manner among the genes encoded by the virus. Nearly one third of the negatively selected sites are associated with fixed mutation sites within serotypes. Our results further show that of all the sites showing evidence of recombination, the majority (~84%) correspond to sites under purifying selection in the four serotypes. The analysis further shows that genetic recombination occurs within specific codons, albeit with low frequency (< 5% of all recombination sites) throughout the DENV genome of the four serotypes and reveals significant enrichment (p < 0.05) among sites under purifying selection in the virus.
ConclusionThe study provides the first evidence for intracodon recombination in DENV and suggests that within codons, genetic recombination has a significant role in maintaining extensive purifying selection of DENV in natural populations. Our study also suggests that fixation of beneficial mutations may lead to virus evolution via translational selection of specific sites in the DENV genome.