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Genetics. 1999 Nov;153(3):1077-89.

Genealogical evidence for positive selection in the nef gene of HIV-1.

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  • 1Bioinformatics and Retrovirology Laboratory, Universidade Federal de São Paulo, São Paulo, CEP 05508-900, Brazil.


The pattern and process of evolution in the nef gene of HIV-1 was analyzed within and among patients. Using a maximum likelihood method that allows for variable intensity of selection pressure among codons, strong positive selection was detected in a hemophiliac patient over 30 mo of infection. By reconstructing the process of allele substitution in this patient using parsimony, the synapomorphic amino acid changes separating each time point were found to have high probabilities of being under positive selection, with selective coefficients of at least 3.6%. Positive selection was also detected among 39 nef sequences from HIV-1 subtype B. In contrast, multiple pairwise comparisons of nonsynonymous and synonymous substitution rates provided no good evidence for positive selection and sliding window analyses failed to detect most positively selected sites. These findings demonstrate that positive selection is an important determinant of nef gene evolution and that genealogy-based methods outperform pairwise methods in the detection of adaptive evolution. Mapping the locations of positively selected sites may also be of use in identifying targets of the immune response and hence aid vaccine design.

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