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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2013 Feb 4;368(1614):20120208. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2012.0208. Print 2013 Mar 19.

Modelling tree shape and structure in viral phylodynamics.

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Department of Veterinary Medicine, University of Cambridge, Madingley Road, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire CB3 0ES, UK.


Epidemiological models have highlighted the importance of population structure in the transmission dynamics of infectious diseases. Using HIV-1 as an example of a model evolutionary system, we consider how population structure affects the shape and the structure of a viral phylogeny in the absence of strong selection at the population level. For structured populations, the number of lineages as a function of time is insufficient to describe the shape of the phylogeny. We develop deterministic approximations for the dynamics of tips of the phylogeny over evolutionary time, the number of 'cherries', tips that share a direct common ancestor, and Sackin's index, a commonly used measure of phylogenetic imbalance or asymmetry. We employ cherries both as a measure of asymmetry of the tree as well as a measure of the association between sequences from different groups. We consider heterogeneity in infectiousness associated with different stages of HIV infection, and in contact rates between groups of individuals. In the absence of selection, we find that population structure may have relatively little impact on the overall asymmetry of a tree, especially when only a small fraction of infected individuals is sampled, but may have marked effects on how sequences from different subpopulations cluster and co-cluster.

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