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1.  HIV-1 Subtype B Protease and Reverse Transcriptase Amino Acid Covariation 
PLoS Computational Biology  2007;3(5):e87.
Despite the high degree of HIV-1 protease and reverse transcriptase (RT) mutation in the setting of antiretroviral therapy, the spectrum of possible virus variants appears to be limited by patterns of amino acid covariation. We analyzed patterns of amino acid covariation in protease and RT sequences from more than 7,000 persons infected with HIV-1 subtype B viruses obtained from the Stanford HIV Drug Resistance Database ( In addition, we examined the relationship between conditional probabilities associated with a pair of mutations and the order in which those mutations developed in viruses for which longitudinal sequence data were available. Patterns of RT covariation were dominated by the distinct clustering of Type I and Type II thymidine analog mutations and the Q151M-associated mutations. Patterns of protease covariation were dominated by the clustering of nelfinavir-associated mutations (D30N and N88D), two main groups of protease inhibitor (PI)–resistance mutations associated either with V82A or L90M, and a tight cluster of mutations associated with decreased susceptibility to amprenavir and the most recently approved PI darunavir. Different patterns of covariation were frequently observed for different mutations at the same position including the RT mutations T69D versus T69N, L74V versus L74I, V75I versus V75M, T215F versus T215Y, and K219Q/E versus K219N/R, and the protease mutations M46I versus M46L, I54V versus I54M/L, and N88D versus N88S. Sequence data from persons with correlated mutations in whom earlier sequences were available confirmed that the conditional probabilities associated with correlated mutation pairs could be used to predict the order in which the mutations were likely to have developed. Whereas accessory nucleoside RT inhibitor–resistance mutations nearly always follow primary nucleoside RT inhibitor–resistance mutations, accessory PI-resistance mutations often preceded primary PI-resistance mutations.
Author Summary
The identification of which mutations in a protein covary has played a major role in both structural and evolutionary biology. Covariation analysis has been used to help predict unsolved protein structures and to better understand the functions of proteins with known structures. The large number of published genetic sequences of the targets of HIV-1 therapy has provided an unprecedented opportunity to identify dependencies among mutations in these proteins that can be exploited to design inhibitors that have high genetic barriers to resistance. In our analysis, we identified many pairs of covarying drug-resistance mutations in HIV-1 protease and reverse transcriptase and organized them into clusters of mutations that often develop in a predictable order. Inhibitors that are active against early drug-resistant mutants are likely to be less prone to the development of resistance, whereas inhibitors that are active against fully evolved clusters of mutations may be useful drugs for salvage therapy.
PMCID: PMC1866358  PMID: 17500586
2.  A Novel Substrate-Based HIV-1 Protease Inhibitor Drug Resistance Mechanism 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(1):e36.
HIV protease inhibitor (PI) therapy results in the rapid selection of drug resistant viral variants harbouring one or two substitutions in the viral protease. To combat PI resistance development, two approaches have been developed. The first is to increase the level of PI in the plasma of the patient, and the second is to develop novel PI with high potency against the known PI-resistant HIV protease variants. Both approaches share the requirement for a considerable increase in the number of protease mutations to lead to clinical resistance, thereby increasing the genetic barrier. We investigated whether HIV could yet again find a way to become less susceptible to these novel inhibitors.
Methods and Findings
We have performed in vitro selection experiments using a novel PI with an increased genetic barrier (RO033-4649) and demonstrated selection of three viruses 4- to 8-fold resistant to all PI compared to wild type. These PI-resistant viruses did not have a single substitution in the viral protease. Full genomic sequencing revealed the presence of NC/p1 cleavage site substitutions in the viral Gag polyprotein (K436E and/or I437T/V) in all three resistant viruses. These changes, when introduced in a reference strain, conferred PI resistance. The mechanism leading to PI resistance is enhancement of the processing efficiency of the altered substrate by wild-type protease. Analysis of genotypic and phenotypic resistance profiles of 28,000 clinical isolates demonstrated the presence of these NC/p1 cleavage site mutations in some clinical samples (codon 431 substitutions in 13%, codon 436 substitutions in 8%, and codon 437 substitutions in 10%). Moreover, these cleavage site substitutions were highly significantly associated with reduced susceptibility to PI in clinical isolates lacking primary protease mutations. Furthermore, we used data from a clinical trial (NARVAL, ANRS 088) to demonstrate that these NC/p1 cleavage site changes are associated with virological failure during PI therapy.
HIV can use an alternative mechanism to become resistant to PI by changing the substrate instead of the protease. Further studies are required to determine to what extent cleavage site mutations may explain virological failure during PI therapy.
Changes in the cleavage site of the Gag substrate for the HIV protease can convey resistance to protease inhibitors and might contribute to virologic failure during therapy that includes these drugs.
Editors' Summary
Twenty-five years ago, infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)—the causative agent of AIDS—was a death sentence. However, drugs that attack various stages of the HIV life cycle were soon developed that, although not curing the infection, kept it in check when used in combination and greatly increased the life expectancy of people infected with HIV. Unfortunately, viruses resistant to these drugs have rapidly emerged and antiviral therapy now fails in many patients. The use of HIV protease inhibitors (PIs) in combination therapies, for example, has led to the stepwise selection of viral variants resistant to these drugs. Resistance is first acquired when the viral protease changes so that PIs no longer bind to it and inhibit it efficiently. These changes often reduce the efficiency with which the protease binds its substrates—polyproteins called Gag and GagPol that it chops up into smaller proteins to make new viral particles. So the next step is the accumulation of changes elsewhere in the protease that make it work better, and sometimes changes in its substrate that make it easier to cut; these compensatory changes do not directly affect viral resistance to PIs.
Why Was This Study Done?
To prevent viruses with resistance to PIs emerging, drug doses are kept high in patients and new PIs are being developed with high potency against known PI-resistant HIV variants. Both approaches set a “high genetic barrier” to the development of PI resistance by ensuring that HIV has to incorporate many changes in its protease to become resistant. But, the HIV genome naturally changes—mutates—very rapidly, so novel HIV variants could emerge that are less susceptible to the new potent PIs without the virus having to leap this high genetic barrier. In this study, the researchers have investigated whether HIV can find an alternative route to PI resistance that does not involve the introduction of multiple changes into its protease.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers took wild-type HIV and treated it in the laboratory with a new PI regimen that has a high genetic barrier. By gradually increasing its concentration, the researchers selected three viral populations that were able to grow in 4- to 8-fold higher concentrations of the PI than wild-type virus. None of these populations had mutations in the viral protease. Instead, they all had mutations near one of the sites—the NC/p1 site—where the protease normally cuts the Gag polyprotein. These mutations, the researchers report, enhanced the overall efficiency with which the wild-type protease cleaved the polyprotein, and a selection experiment with another PI showed that the development of PI resistance through alterations near the NC/p1 cleavage site was not unique to one PI. The researchers also investigated the potential clinical significance of this new drug resistance mechanism by looking for the same mutations in nearly 30,000 patient samples. Many of the samples did indeed have these mutations. Finally, they showed that mutations at the NC/p1 cleavage site were associated with virological failure (increased viral replication) during PI therapy in an ongoing clinical trial.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These results suggest that increased polyprotein processing because of mutations in the natural substrate of the HIV protease might be a new mechanism by which HIV can become resistant to PIs. This strategy, which occurs in the laboratory and in patients, allows HIV to develop PI resistance without the need for multiple changes in its protease and so avoids the high genetic barrier to resistance that new PIs provide. Clinical studies are now needed to test which of the mutations seen in this study contribute to virological failure, whether the degree of this failure is clinically relevant, and whether these substrate mutations enhance the effect of protease mutations. If the clinical importance of the new mechanism is confirmed, genetic examination of both the polyprotein and the protease will be needed when trying to figure out why a PI-containing therapy is failing in individual patients. Furthermore, it will be necessary to test whether this mechanism can contribute to the development of resistance when evaluating new drugs.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases factsheet on HIV infection and AIDS
US Department of Health and Human Services information on AIDS
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention information on HIV/AIDS
Aidsmap information on HIV and AIDS provided by the charity NAM
BioAfrica, Bioinformatics for HIV Research, information on HIV-1 protease cleavage sites
PMCID: PMC1769415  PMID: 17227139
3.  Distinguishing Functional Amino Acid Covariation from Background Linkage Disequilibrium in HIV Protease and Reverse Transcriptase 
PLoS ONE  2007;2(8):e814.
Correlated amino acid mutation analysis has been widely used to infer functional interactions between different sites in a protein. However, this analysis can be confounded by important phylogenetic effects broadly classifiable as background linkage disequilibrium (BLD). We have systematically separated the covariation induced by selective interactions between amino acids from background LD, using synonymous (S) vs. amino acid (A) mutations. Covariation between two amino acid mutations, (A,A), can be affected by selective interactions between amino acids, whereas covariation within (A,S) pairs or (S,S) pairs cannot. Our analysis of the pol gene — including the protease and the reverse transcriptase genes — in HIV reveals that (A,A) covariation levels are enormously higher than for either (A,S) or (S,S), and thus cannot be attributed to phylogenetic effects. The magnitude of these effects suggests that a large portion of (A,A) covariation in the HIV pol gene results from selective interactions. Inspection of the most prominent (A,A) interactions in the HIV pol gene showed that they are known sites of independently identified drug resistance mutations, and physically cluster around the drug binding site. Moreover, the specific set of (A,A) interaction pairs was reproducible in different drug treatment studies, and vanished in untreated HIV samples. The (S,S) covariation curves measured a low but detectable level of background LD in HIV.
PMCID: PMC1950573  PMID: 17726544
4.  Mutation Patterns and Structural Correlates in Human Immunodeficiency Virus Type 1 Protease following Different Protease Inhibitor Treatments 
Journal of Virology  2003;77(8):4836-4847.
Although many human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1)-infected persons are treated with multiple protease inhibitors in combination or in succession, mutation patterns of protease isolates from these persons have not been characterized. We collected and analyzed 2,244 subtype B HIV-1 isolates from 1,919 persons with different protease inhibitor experiences: 1,004 isolates from untreated persons, 637 isolates from persons who received one protease inhibitor, and 603 isolates from persons receiving two or more protease inhibitors. The median number of protease mutations per isolate increased from 4 in untreated persons to 12 in persons who had received four or more protease inhibitors. Mutations at 45 of the 99 amino acid positions in the protease—including 22 not previously associated with drug resistance—were significantly associated with protease inhibitor treatment. Mutations at 17 of the remaining 99 positions were polymorphic but not associated with drug treatment. Pairs and clusters of correlated (covarying) mutations were significantly more likely to occur in treated than in untreated persons: 115 versus 23 pairs and 30 versus 2 clusters, respectively. Of the 115 statistically significant pairs of covarying residues in the treated isolates, 59 were within 8 Å of each other—many more than would be expected by chance. In summary, nearly one-half of HIV-1 protease positions are under selective drug pressure, including many residues not previously associated with drug resistance. Structural factors appear to be responsible for the high frequency of covariation among many of the protease residues. The presence of mutational clusters provides insight into the complex mutational patterns required for HIV-1 protease inhibitor resistance.
PMCID: PMC152121  PMID: 12663790
5.  An Evolutionary-Network Model Reveals Stratified Interactions in the V3 Loop of the HIV-1 Envelope 
PLoS Computational Biology  2007;3(11):e231.
The third variable loop (V3) of the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) envelope is a principal determinant of antibody neutralization and progression to AIDS. Although it is undoubtedly an important target for vaccine research, extensive genetic variation in V3 remains an obstacle to the development of an effective vaccine. Comparative methods that exploit the abundance of sequence data can detect interactions between residues of rapidly evolving proteins such as the HIV-1 envelope, revealing biological constraints on their variability. However, previous studies have relied implicitly on two biologically unrealistic assumptions: (1) that founder effects in the evolutionary history of the sequences can be ignored, and; (2) that statistical associations between residues occur exclusively in pairs. We show that comparative methods that neglect the evolutionary history of extant sequences are susceptible to a high rate of false positives (20%–40%). Therefore, we propose a new method to detect interactions that relaxes both of these assumptions. First, we reconstruct the evolutionary history of extant sequences by maximum likelihood, shifting focus from extant sequence variation to the underlying substitution events. Second, we analyze the joint distribution of substitution events among positions in the sequence as a Bayesian graphical model, in which each branch in the phylogeny is a unit of observation. We perform extensive validation of our models using both simulations and a control case of known interactions in HIV-1 protease, and apply this method to detect interactions within V3 from a sample of 1,154 HIV-1 envelope sequences. Our method greatly reduces the number of false positives due to founder effects, while capturing several higher-order interactions among V3 residues. By mapping these interactions to a structural model of the V3 loop, we find that the loop is stratified into distinct evolutionary clusters. We extend our model to detect interactions between the V3 and C4 domains of the HIV-1 envelope, and account for the uncertainty in mapping substitutions to the tree with a parametric bootstrap.
Author Summary
The third variable loop (V3) of the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) envelope is a principal determinant of viral growth characteristics and an important target for the immune system. Interactions between residues of V3 allow the virus to shift between combinations of residues to escape the immune system while retaining its structure and functions. Comparative study of HIV-1 V3 sequences can detect such interactions by the covariation of sites in the sequence, which can then be used to inform vaccine development, but current methods for detecting such associations rely on biologically unrealistic assumptions. We demonstrate that these assumptions cause an excessive number of spurious associations, and present a new approach that couples phylogenetic and Bayesian network models, and greatly reduces this number while retaining the ability to detect real associations. Our analysis reveals that the V3 loop is stratified into discrete layers of interacting residues, suggesting a partition of functions along this viral structure with implications for vaccine development.
PMCID: PMC2082504  PMID: 18039027
6.  Episodic Sexual Transmission of HIV Revealed by Molecular Phylodynamics 
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(3):e50.
The structure of sexual contact networks plays a key role in the epidemiology of sexually transmitted infections, and their reconstruction from interview data has provided valuable insights into the spread of infection. For HIV, the long period of infectivity has made the interpretation of contact networks more difficult, and major discrepancies have been observed between the contact network and the transmission network revealed by viral phylogenetics. The high rate of HIV evolution in principle allows for detailed reconstruction of links between virus from different individuals, but often sampling has been too sparse to describe the structure of the transmission network. The aim of this study was to analyze a high-density sample of an HIV-infected population using recently developed techniques in phylogenetics to infer the short-term dynamics of the epidemic among men who have sex with men (MSM).
Methods and Findings
Sequences of the protease and reverse transcriptase coding regions from 2,126 patients, predominantly MSM, from London were compared: 402 of these showed a close match to at least one other subtype B sequence. Nine large clusters were identified on the basis of genetic distance; all were confirmed by Bayesian Monte Carlo Markov chain (MCMC) phylogenetic analysis. Overall, 25% of individuals with a close match with one sequence are linked to 10 or more others. Dated phylogenies of the clusters using a relaxed clock indicated that 65% of the transmissions within clusters took place between 1995 and 2000, and 25% occurred within 6 mo after infection. The likelihood that not all members of the clusters have been identified renders the latter observation conservative.
Reconstruction of the HIV transmission network using a dated phylogeny approach has revealed the HIV epidemic among MSM in London to have been episodic, with evidence of multiple clusters of transmissions dating to the late 1990s, a period when HIV prevalence is known to have doubled in this population. The quantitative description of the transmission dynamics among MSM will be important for parameterization of epidemiological models and in designing intervention strategies.
Using viral genotype data from HIV drug resistance testing at a London clinic, Andrew Leigh Brown and colleagues derive the structure of the transmission network through phylogenetic analysis.
Editors' Summary
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the cause of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), is mainly spread through unprotected sex with an infected partner. Like other sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS spreads through networks of sexual contacts. The characteristics of these complex networks (which include people who have serial sexual relationships with single partners and people who have concurrent sexual relationships with several partners) affect how quickly diseases spread in the short term and how common the disease is in the long term. For many sexually transmitted diseases, sexual contact networks can be reconstructed from interview data. The information gained in this way can be used for partner notification so that transmitters of the disease and people who may have been unknowingly infected can be identified, treated, and advised about disease prevention. It can also be used to develop effective community-based prevention strategies.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although sexual contact networks have provided valuable information about the spread of many sexually transmitted diseases, they cannot easily be used to understand HIV transmission patterns. This is because the period of infectivity with HIV is long and the risk of infection from a single sexual contact with an infected person is low. Another way to understand the spread of HIV is through phylogenetics, which examines the genetic relatedness of viruses obtained from different individuals. Frequent small changes in the genetic blueprint of HIV allow the virus to avoid the human immune response and to become resistant to antiretroviral drugs. In this study, the researchers use recently developed analytical methods, viral sequences from a large proportion of a specific HIV-infected population, and information on when each sample was taken, to learn about transmission of HIV/AIDS in London among men who have sex with men (MSM; a term that encompasses gay, bisexual, and transgendered men and heterosexual men who sometimes have sex with men). This new approach, which combines information on viral genetic variation and viral population dynamics, is called “molecular phylodynamics.”
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers compared the sequences of the genes encoding the HIV-1 protease and reverse transcriptase from more than 2,000 patients, mainly MSM, attending a large London HIV clinic between 1997 and 2003. 402 of these sequences closely matched at least one other subtype B sequence (the HIV/AIDS epidemic among MSM in the UK primarily involves HIV subtype B). Further analysis showed that the patients from whom this subset of sequences came formed six clusters of ten or more individuals, as well as many smaller clusters, based on the genetic relatedness of their HIV viruses. The researchers then used information on the date when each sample was collected and a “relaxed clock” approach (which accounts for the possibility that different sequences evolve at different rates) to determine dated phylogenies (patterns of genetic relatedness that indicate when gene sequences change) for the clusters. These phylogenies indicated that at least in one in four transmissions between the individuals in the large clusters occurred within 6 months of infection, and that most of the transmissions within each cluster occurred over periods of 3–4 years during the late 1990s.
What Do These Findings Mean?
This phylodynamic reconstruction of the HIV transmission network among MSM in a London clinic indicates that the HIV epidemic in this population has been episodic with multiple clusters of transmission occurring during the late 1990s, a time when the number of HIV infections in this population doubled. It also suggests that transmission of the virus during the early stages of HIV infection is likely to be an important driver of the epidemic. Whether these results apply more generally to the MSM population at risk for transmitting or acquiring HIV depends on whether the patients in this study are representative of that group. Additional studies are needed to determine this, but if the patterns revealed here are generalizable, then this quantitative description of HIV transmission dynamics should help in the design of strategies to strengthen HIV prevention among MSM.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
Read a related PLoS Medicine Perspective article
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on HIV infection and AIDS
HIV InSite has comprehensive information on all aspects of HIV/AIDS, including a list of organizations that provide information for gay men and MSM
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on HIV/AIDS and on HIV/AIDS among MSM (in English and Spanish)
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity, on HIV, AIDS, and men who have sex with men
The Center for AIDS Prevention Studies (University of California, San Francisco) provides information on sexual networks and HIV prevention
The US National Center for Biotechnology Information provides a science primer on molecular phylogenetics
UK Collaborative Group on HIV Drug Resistance maintains a database of resistance tests
HIV i-Base offers HIV treatment information for health-care professionals and HIV-positive people
The NIH-funded HIV Sequence Database contains data on genetic sequences, resistance, immunology, and vaccine trials
PMCID: PMC2267814  PMID: 18351795
7.  Crystal Structures of a Multidrug-Resistant Human Immunodeficiency Virus Type 1 Protease Reveal an Expanded Active-Site Cavity 
Journal of Virology  2004;78(6):3123-3132.
The goal of this study was to use X-ray crystallography to investigate the structural basis of resistance to human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) protease inhibitors. We overexpressed, purified, and crystallized a multidrug-resistant (MDR) HIV-1 protease enzyme derived from a patient failing on several protease inhibitor-containing regimens. This HIV-1 variant contained codon mutations at positions 10, 36, 46, 54, 63, 71, 82, 84, and 90 that confer drug resistance to protease inhibitors. The 1.8-angstrom (Å) crystal structure of this MDR patient isolate reveals an expanded active-site cavity. The active-site expansion includes position 82 and 84 mutations due to the alterations in the amino acid side chains from longer to shorter (e.g., V82A and I84V). The MDR isolate 769 protease “flaps” stay open wider, and the difference in the flap tip distances in the MDR 769 variant is 12 Å. The MDR 769 protease crystal complexes with lopinavir and DMP450 reveal completely different binding modes. The network of interactions between the ligands and the MDR 769 protease is completely different from that seen with the wild-type protease-ligand complexes. The water molecule-forming hydrogen bonds bridging between the two flaps and either the substrate or the peptide-based inhibitor are lacking in the MDR 769 clinical isolate. The S1, S1′, S3, and S3′ pockets show expansion and conformational change. Surface plasmon resonance measurements with the MDR 769 protease indicate higher koff rates, resulting in a change of binding affinity. Surface plasmon resonance measurements provide kon and koff data (Kd = koff/kon) to measure binding of the multidrug-resistant protease to various ligands. This MDR 769 protease represents a new antiviral target, presenting the possibility of designing novel inhibitors with activity against the open and expanded protease forms.
PMCID: PMC354404  PMID: 14990731
8.  Computational Analysis of HIV-1 Protease Protein Binding Pockets 
Mutations that arise in HIV-1 protease after exposure to various HIV-1 protease inhibitors have proved to be a difficult aspect in the treatment of HIV. Mutations in the binding pocket of the protease can prevent the protease inhibitor from binding to the protein effectively. In the present study, the crystal structures of 68 HIV-1 proteases complexed with one of the nine FDA approved protease inhibitors from the Protein Data Bank (PDB) were analyzed by (a) identifying the mutational changes with the aid of a developed mutation map and (b) correlating the structure of the binding pockets with the complexed inhibitors. The mutations of each crystal structure were identified by comparing the amino acid sequence of each structure against the HIV-1 wild type strain HXB2. These mutations were visually presented in the form of a mutation map to analyze mutation patterns corresponding to each protease inhibitor. The crystal structure mutation patterns of each inhibitor (in vitro) were compared against the mutation patterns observed in in vivo data. The in vitro mutation patterns were found to be representative of most of the major in vivo mutations. We then performed a data mining analysis of the binding pockets from each crystal structure in terms of their chemical descriptors to identify important structural features of the HIV-1 protease protein with respect to the binding conformation of the HIV-1 protease inhibitors. Data mining analysis is performed using several classification techniques: Random Forest (RF), linear discriminant analysis (LDA), and logistic regression (LR). We developed two hybrid models, RF-LDA and RF-LR. Random Forest is used as a feature selection proxy, reducing the descriptor space to a few of the most relevant descriptors determined by the classifier. These descriptors are then used to develop the subsequent LDA, LR, and hierarchical classification models. Clustering analysis of the binding pockets using the selected descriptors used to produce the optimal classification models reveals conformational similarities of the ligands in each cluster. This study provides important information in understanding the structural features of HIV-1 protease which cannot be studied by other existing in vivo genomic datasets.
PMCID: PMC2981608  PMID: 20925403
9.  The Role of Viral Introductions in Sustaining Community-Based HIV Epidemics in Rural Uganda: Evidence from Spatial Clustering, Phylogenetics, and Egocentric Transmission Models 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(3):e1001610.
Using different approaches to investigate HIV transmission patterns, Justin Lessler and colleagues find that extra-community HIV introductions are frequent and likely play a role in sustaining the epidemic in the Rakai community.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
It is often assumed that local sexual networks play a dominant role in HIV spread in sub-Saharan Africa. The aim of this study was to determine the extent to which continued HIV transmission in rural communities—home to two-thirds of the African population—is driven by intra-community sexual networks versus viral introductions from outside of communities.
Methods and Findings
We analyzed the spatial dynamics of HIV transmission in rural Rakai District, Uganda, using data from a cohort of 14,594 individuals within 46 communities. We applied spatial clustering statistics, viral phylogenetics, and probabilistic transmission models to quantify the relative contribution of viral introductions into communities versus community- and household-based transmission to HIV incidence. Individuals living in households with HIV-incident (n = 189) or HIV-prevalent (n = 1,597) persons were 3.2 (95% CI: 2.7–3.7) times more likely to be HIV infected themselves compared to the population in general, but spatial clustering outside of households was relatively weak and was confined to distances <500 m. Phylogenetic analyses of gag and env genes suggest that chains of transmission frequently cross community boundaries. A total of 95 phylogenetic clusters were identified, of which 44% (42/95) were two individuals sharing a household. Among the remaining clusters, 72% (38/53) crossed community boundaries. Using the locations of self-reported sexual partners, we estimate that 39% (95% CI: 34%–42%) of new viral transmissions occur within stable household partnerships, and that among those infected by extra-household sexual partners, 62% (95% CI: 55%–70%) are infected by sexual partners from outside their community. These results rely on the representativeness of the sample and the quality of self-reported partnership data and may not reflect HIV transmission patterns outside of Rakai.
Our findings suggest that HIV introductions into communities are common and account for a significant proportion of new HIV infections acquired outside of households in rural Uganda, though the extent to which this is true elsewhere in Africa remains unknown. Our results also suggest that HIV prevention efforts should be implemented at spatial scales broader than the community and should target key populations likely responsible for introductions into communities.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
About 35 million people (25 million of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa) are currently infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and about 2.3 million people become newly infected every year. HIV destroys immune system cells, leaving infected individuals susceptible to other infections. HIV infection can be controlled by taking antiretroviral drugs (antiretroviral therapy, or ART) daily throughout life. Although originally available only to people living in wealthy countries, recent political efforts mean that 9.7 million people in low- and middle-income countries now have access to ART. However, ART does not cure HIV infection, so prevention of viral transmission remains extremely important. Because HIV is usually transmitted through unprotected sex with an infected partner, individuals can reduce their risk of infection by abstaining from sex, by having one or a few partners, and by using condoms. Male circumcision also reduces HIV transmission. In addition to reducing illness and death among HIV-positive people, ART also reduces HIV transmission.
Why Was This Study Done?
Effective HIV control requires an understanding of how HIV spreads through sexual networks. These networks include sexual partnerships between individuals in households, between community members in different households, and between individuals from different communities. Local sexual networks (household and intra-community sexual partnerships) are sometimes assumed to be the dominant driving force in HIV spread in sub-Saharan Africa, but are viral introductions from sexual partnerships with individuals outside the community also important? This question needs answering because the effectiveness of interventions such as ART as prevention partly depends on how many new infections in an intervention area are attributable to infection from partners residing in that area and how many are attributable to infection from partners living elsewhere. Here, the researchers use three analytical methods—spatial clustering statistics, viral phylogenetics, and egocentric transmission modeling—to ask whether HIV transmission in rural Uganda is driven predominantly by intra-community sexual networks. Spatial clustering analysis uses the geographical coordinates of households to measure the tendency of HIV-infected people to cluster spatially at scales consistent with community transmission. Viral phylogenetic analysis examines the genetic relatedness of viruses; if transmission is through local networks, viruses in newly infected individuals should more closely resemble viruses in other community members than those in people outside the community. Egocentric transmission modelling uses information on the locations of recent sexual partners to estimate the proportions of new transmissions from household, intra-community, and extra-community partners.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers applied their three analytical methods to data collected from 14,594 individuals living in 46 communities (governmental administrative units) in Rakai District, Uganda. Spatial clustering analysis indicated that individuals who lived in households with individuals with incident HIV (newly diagnosed) or prevalent HIV (previously diagnosed) were 3.2 times more likely than the general population to be HIV-positive themselves. Spatial clustering outside households was relatively weak, however, and was confined to distances of less than half a kilometer. Viral phylogenetic analysis indicated that 44% of phylogenetic clusters (viruses with related genetic sequences found in more than one individual) were within households, but that 40% of clusters crossed community borders. Finally, analysis of the locations of self-reported sexual partners indicated that 39% of new viral transmissions occurred within stable household partnerships, but that among people newly infected by extra-household partners, nearly two-thirds were infected by partners from outside their community.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The results of all three analyses suggest that HIV introductions into communities are frequent and are likely to play an important role in sustaining HIV transmission in the Rakai District. Specifically, within this rural HIV-endemic region (a region where HIV infection is always present), viral introductions combined with intra-household transmission account for the majority of new infections, although community-based sexual networks also play a critical role in HIV transmission. These findings may not be generalizable to the broader Ugandan population or to other regions of Africa, and their accuracy is likely to be limited by the use of self-reported sexual partner data. Nevertheless, these findings indicate that the dynamics of HIV transmission in rural Uganda (and probably elsewhere) are complex. Consequently, to halt the spread of HIV, prevention efforts will need to be implemented at spatial scales broader than individual communities, and key populations that are likely to introduce HIV into communities will need to be targeted.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on HIV infection and AIDS
NAM/aidsmap provides basic information about HIV/AIDS, and summaries of recent research findings on HIV care and treatment
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity, on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on HIV and AIDS in Uganda and on HIV prevention strategies (in English and Spanish)
The UNAIDS Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic 2013 provides up-to-date information about the AIDS epidemic and efforts to halt it
The Center for AIDS Prevention Studies (University of California, San Francisco) has a fact sheet about sexual networks and HIV prevention
Wikipedia provides information on spatial clustering analysis (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
A PLOS Computational Biology Topic Page (a review article that is a published copy of record of a dynamic version of the article as found in Wikipedia) about viral phylodynamics is available
Personal stories about living with HIV/AIDS are available through Avert, NAM/aidsmap, and Healthtalkonline
PMCID: PMC3942316  PMID: 24595023
10.  Relative Fitness and Replication Capacity of a Multinucleoside Analogue-Resistant Clinical Human Immunodeficiency Virus Type 1 Isolate with a Deletion of Codon 69 in the Reverse Transcriptase Coding Region▿  
Journal of Virology  2007;81(9):4713-4721.
Deletions, insertions, and amino acid substitutions in the β3-β4 hairpin loop-coding region of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) reverse transcriptase (RT) have been associated with resistance to nucleoside RT inhibitors when appearing in combination with other mutations in the RT-coding region. In this work, we have measured the in vivo fitness of HIV-1 variants containing a deletion of 3 nucleotides affecting codon 69 (Δ69) of the viral RT as well as the replication capacity (RC) ex vivo of a series of recombinant HIV-1 variants carrying an RT bearing the Δ69 deletion or the T69A mutation in a multidrug-resistant (MDR) sequence background, including the Q151M complex and substitutions M184V, K103N, Y181C, and G190A. Patient-derived viral clones having RTs with Δ69 together with S163I showed increased RCs under drug pressure. These data were consistent with the viral population dynamics observed in a long-term-treated HIV-1-infected patient. In the absence of drugs, viral clones containing T69A replicated more efficiently than those having Δ69, but only when patient-derived sequences corresponding to RT residues 248 to 527 were present. These effects could be attributed to a functional interaction between the C-terminal domain of the p66 subunit (RNase H domain) and the DNA polymerase domain of the RT. Finally, recombinant HIV-1 clones bearing RTs with MDR-associated mutations, including deletions at codon 69, showed increased susceptibilities to protease inhibitors in phenotypic assays. These effects correlated with impaired Gag cleavage and could be attributed to delayed maturation and decreased production of active protease in those variants.
PMCID: PMC1900151  PMID: 17314158
11.  Genetic Diversity of Mycobacterium tuberculosis in Peru and Exploration of Phylogenetic Associations with Drug Resistance 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(6):e65873.
There is limited available data on the strain diversity of M tuberculosis in Peru, though there may be interesting lessons to learn from a setting where multidrug resistant TB has emerged as a major problem despite an apparently well-functioning DOTS control programme.
Spoligotyping was undertaken on 794 strains of M tuberculosis collected between 1999 and 2005 from 553 community-based patients and 241 hospital-based HIV co-infected patients with pulmonary tuberculosis in Lima, Peru. Phylogenetic and epidemiologic analyses permitted identification of clusters and exploration of spoligotype associations with drug resistance.
Mean patient age was 31.9 years, 63% were male and 30.4% were known to be HIV+. Rifampicin mono-resistance, isoniazid mono-resistance and multidrug resistance (MDR) were identified in 4.7%, 8.7% and 17.3% of strains respectively. Of 794 strains from 794 patients there were 149 different spoligotypes. Of these there were 27 strains (3.4%) with novel, unique orphan spoligotypes. 498 strains (62.7%) were clustered in the nine most common spoligotypes: 16.4% SIT 50 (clade H3), 12.3% SIT 53 (clade T1), 8.3% SIT 33 (LAM3), 7.4% SIT 42 (LAM9), 5.5% SIT 1 (Beijing), 3.9% SIT 47 (H1), 3.0% SIT 222 (clade unknown), 3.0% SIT1355 (LAM), and 2.8% SIT 92 (X3). Amongst HIV-negative community-based TB patients no associations were seen between drug resistance and specific spoligotypes; in contrast HIV-associated MDRTB, but not isoniazid or rifampicin mono-resistance, was associated with SIT42 and SIT53 strains.
Two spoligotypes were associated with MDR particularly amongst patients with HIV. The MDR-HIV association was significantly reduced after controlling for SIT42 and SIT53 status; residual confounding may explain the remaining apparent association. These data are suggestive of a prolonged, clonal, hospital-based outbreak of MDR disease amongst HIV patients but do not support a hypothesis of strain-specific propensity for the acquisition of resistance-conferring mutations.
PMCID: PMC3691179  PMID: 23826083
12.  Emergence of protease inhibitor resistance mutations in human immunodeficiency virus type 1 isolates from patients and rapid screening procedure for their detection. 
Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy  1996;40(11):2535-2541.
Patient human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) isolates that are resistant to protease inhibitors may contain amino acid substitutions L10I/V, M46L/I, G-48V, L63P, V82A/F/T, I84V, and L90M in the protease gene. Substitutions at positions 82 and/or 90 occur in variants that display high levels of resistance to certain protease inhibitors. Nucleotide substitutions at these two sites also lead to the loss of two HindII restriction enzyme digestion sites, and these changes make possible a rapid procedure for the detection of drug-resistant variants in patients on protease inhibitor therapy. This procedure was used to detect the emergence of mutated viruses at various times after the initiation of therapy with the HIV-1 protease inhibitor indinavir. The method includes viral RNA isolation from plasma and reverse transcription PCR amplification of the protease gene with fluorescence-tagged primers. The PCR product is digested with HindII, the cleavage products are separated on a urea-acrylamide gel in a DNA sequencer, and the extent of cleavage is automatically analyzed with commercially available software. In viruses from 34 blood samples from four patients, mutations leading to an amino acid change at residue 82 appeared as early as 6 weeks after the start of therapy and persisted throughout the course of the study period (48 weeks). Mutations leading to double substitutions at residues 82 and 90 were seen at a lower frequency and appeared later than the change at position 82. The changes detected by restriction enzyme cleavage were confirmed by DNA sequencing of the cloned protease genes by reverse transcription PCR amplification of viral RNA from isolates in plasma. In addition to the changes at positions 82 and 90, we have identified M46L/I, G48V, and I54V substitutions in isolates derived from indinavir-treated patients. HindII analysis of uncloned, PCR-amplified DNA offers a rapid screening procedure for the detection of virus isolates containing mutations at amino acid residues 82 and 90 in the HIV-1 protease gene. By using other restriction enzymes, the same method can be used to detect additional protease drug-resistant variants and is generally applicable for the detection of mutations.
PMCID: PMC163570  PMID: 8913459
13.  Molecular Basis for the Relative Substrate Specificity of Human Immunodeficiency Virus Type 1 and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus Proteases 
Journal of Virology  2001;75(19):9458-9469.
We have used a random hexamer phage library to delineate similarities and differences between the substrate specificities of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) proteases (PRs). Peptide sequences were identified that were specifically cleaved by each protease, as well as sequences cleaved equally well by both enzymes. Based on amino acid distinctions within the P3-P3′ region of substrates that appeared to correlate with these cleavage specificities, we prepared a series of synthetic peptides within the framework of a peptide sequence cleaved with essentially the same efficiency by both HIV-1 and FIV PRs, Ac-KSGVF↓VVNGLVK-NH2 (arrow denotes cleavage site). We used the resultant peptide set to assess the influence of specific amino acid substitutions on the cleavage characteristics of the two proteases. The findings show that when Asn is substituted for Val at the P2 position, HIV-1 PR cleaves the substrate at a much greater rate than does FIV PR. Likewise, Glu or Gln substituted for Val at the P2′ position also yields peptides specifically susceptible to HIV-1 PR. In contrast, when Ser is substituted for Val at P1′, FIV PR cleaves the substrate at a much higher rate than does HIV-1 PR. In addition, Asn or Gln at the P1 position, in combination with an appropriate P3 amino acid, Arg, also strongly favors cleavage by FIV PR over HIV PR. Structural analysis identified several protease residues likely to dictate the observed specificity differences. Interestingly, HIV PR Asp30 (Ile-35 in FIV PR), which influences specificity at the S2 and S2′ subsites, and HIV-1 PR Pro-81 and Val-82 (Ile-98 and Gln-99 in FIV PR), which influence specificity at the S1 and S1′ subsites, are residues which are often involved in development of drug resistance in HIV-1 protease. The peptide substrate KSGVF↓VVNGK, cleaved by both PRs, was used as a template for the design of a reduced amide inhibitor, Ac-GSGVFΨ(CH2NH)VVNGL-NH2. This compound inhibited both FIV and HIV-1 PRs with approximately equal efficiency. These findings establish a molecular basis for distinctions in substrate specificity between human and feline lentivirus PRs and offer a framework for development of efficient broad-based inhibitors.
PMCID: PMC114513  PMID: 11533208
14.  Inferring within-patient HIV-1 evolutionary dynamics under anti-HIV therapy using serial virus samples with vSPA 
BMC Bioinformatics  2009;10:360.
Analysis of within-patient HIV evolution under anti-HIV therapy is crucial to a better understanding the possible mechanisms of HIV drug-resistance acquisition. The high evolutionary rate of HIV allows us to trace its evolutionary process in real time by analyzing virus samples serially collected from the same patient. However, such studies are still uncommon due to the lack of powerful computational methods designed for serial virus samples. In this study, we develop a computational method, vSPA (viral Sequential Pathway Analysis), which groups viral sequences from the same sampling time into clusters and traces the evolution between clusters over sampling times. The method makes use of information of different sampling times and traces the evolution of important amino acid mutations. Second, a permutation test at the codon level is conducted to determine the threshold of the correlation coefficient for clustering viral quasispecies. We applied vSPA to four large data sets of HIV-1 protease and reverse transcriptase genes serially collected from two AIDS patients undergoing anti-HIV therapy over several years.
The results show that vSPA can trace within-patient HIV evolution by detecting many amino acid changes, including important drug-resistant mutations, and by classifying different viral quasispecies coexisting during different periods of the therapy.
Given that many new anti-HIV drugs will be available in the near future, vSPA may be useful for quickly providing information on the acquisition of HIV drug-resistant mutations by monitoring the within-patient HIV evolution under anti-HIV therapy as a computational approach.
PMCID: PMC2776027  PMID: 19863822
15.  Transmission Cluster of Multiclass Highly Drug-Resistant HIV-1 Among 9 Men Who Have Sex With Men in Seattle/King County, WA, 2005−2007 
From 2005 through 2007, Seattle health care providers identified cases of primary multiclass drug-resistant (MDR) HIV-1 with common patterns of resistance to antiretrovirals (ARVs). Through surveillance activities and genetic analysis, the local Health Department and the University of Washington identified phylogenetically linked cases among ARV treatment–naive and -experienced individuals.
HIV-1 pol nucleotide consensus sequences submitted to the University of Washington Clinical Virology Laboratory were assessed for phylogenetically related MDR HIV. Demographic and clinical data collected included HIV diagnosis date, ARV history, and laboratory results.
Seven ARV-naive men had phylogenetically linked MDR strains with resistance to most ARVs; these were linked to 2 ARV-experienced men. All 9 men reported methamphetamine use and multiple anonymous male partners. Primary transmissions were diagnosed for more than a 2-year period, 2005−2007. Three, including the 2 ARV-experienced men, were prescribed ARVs.
This cluster of 9 men with phylogenetically related highly drug-resistant MDR HIV strains and common risk factors but without reported direct epidemiologic links may have important implications to public health. This cluster demonstrates the importance of primary resistance testing and of collaboration between the public and private medical community in identifying MDR outbreaks. Public health interventions and surveillance are needed to reduce transmission of MDR HIV-1.
PMCID: PMC2586929  PMID: 18769347
HIV; HIV-1; multiple drug resistance; disease clustering; highly active antiretroviral therapy
16.  The Transcription Factor Mrr1p Controls Expression of the MDR1 Efflux Pump and Mediates Multidrug Resistance in Candida albicans 
PLoS Pathogens  2007;3(11):e164.
Constitutive overexpression of the MDR1 (multidrug resistance) gene, which encodes a multidrug efflux pump of the major facilitator superfamily, is a frequent cause of resistance to fluconazole and other toxic compounds in clinical Candida albicans strains, but the mechanism of MDR1 upregulation has not been resolved. By genome-wide gene expression analysis we have identified a zinc cluster transcription factor, designated as MRR1 (multidrug resistance regulator), that was coordinately upregulated with MDR1 in drug-resistant, clinical C. albicans isolates. Inactivation of MRR1 in two such drug-resistant isolates abolished both MDR1 expression and multidrug resistance. Sequence analysis of the MRR1 alleles of two matched drug-sensitive and drug-resistant C. albicans isolate pairs showed that the resistant isolates had become homozygous for MRR1 alleles that contained single nucleotide substitutions, resulting in a P683S exchange in one isolate and a G997V substitution in the other isolate. Introduction of these mutated alleles into a drug-susceptible C. albicans strain resulted in constitutive MDR1 overexpression and multidrug resistance. By comparing the transcriptional profiles of drug-resistant C. albicans isolates and mrr1Δ mutants derived from them and of C. albicans strains carrying wild-type and mutated MRR1 alleles, we defined the target genes that are controlled by Mrr1p. Many of the Mrr1p target genes encode oxidoreductases, whose upregulation in fluconazole-resistant isolates may help to prevent cell damage resulting from the generation of toxic molecules in the presence of fluconazole and thereby contribute to drug resistance. The identification of MRR1 as the central regulator of the MDR1 efflux pump and the elucidation of the mutations that have occurred in fluconazole-resistant, clinical C. albicans isolates and result in constitutive activity of this trancription factor provide detailed insights into the molecular basis of multidrug resistance in this important human fungal pathogen.
Author Summary
The Candida albicans MDR1 (multidrug resistance) gene encodes a multidrug efflux pump of the major facilitator superfamily that is constitutively overexpressed in many fluconazole-resistant strains. Although MDR1 overexpression is a major cause of resistance to this widely used antifungal agent and other metabolic inhibitors, so far the molecular basis of MDR1 upregulation in resistant strains has remained elusive. By comparing the transcription profiles of MDR1 overexpressing, clinical C. albicans isolates and matched, drug-susceptible isolates from the same patients, we identified a transcription factor, termed multidrug resistance regulator 1 (MRR1), which was upregulated in all resistant isolates and turned out to be a central regulator of MDR1 expression. Resistant isolates contained point mutations in MRR1, which rendered the transcription factor constitutively active. Introduction of these mutated alleles into a susceptible strain caused MDR1 overexpression und multidrug resistance. Inactivation of MRR1 in clinical isolates abolished MDR1 expression and affected fluconazole resistance even more strongly than deletion of the MDR1 efflux pump itself, indicating that additional Mrr1p target genes, which were identified by genome-wide gene expression analysis, contribute to fluconazole resistance. These findings provide detailed insights into the molecular basis of multidrug resistance in one of the most important human fungal pathogens.
PMCID: PMC2048531  PMID: 17983269
17.  pol gene diversity of five human immunodeficiency virus type 1 subtypes: evidence for naturally occurring mutations that contribute to drug resistance, limited recombination patterns, and common ancestry for subtypes B and D. 
Journal of Virology  1997;71(9):6348-6358.
Naturally occurring mutations in the polymerase gene of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) have important implications for therapy and the outcome of clinical studies. Using 42 virus isolates obtained from the UNAIDS sample collection, we analyzed the protease (99 amino acids [aa]) and the first 297 aa of reverse transcriptase (RT) coding regions. Based on the V3 sequence analysis, the collection includes subtype A (n = 5), subtype B (n = 12), subtype C (n = 1), subtype D (n = 11), and subtype E (n = 13) viruses. Of the 42 protease genes, 37 contained naturally occurring mutations at positions in the gene that contribute to resistance to protease inhibitors (indinavir, saquinavir, ritonavir, and nelfinavir) in clade B isolates. The phenotypic effect of these substitutions in non-B isolates is unclear. The The 5'half RT coding region of the 42 isolates was found to be less variable, although 19 of the 42 RT sequences contained amino acid substitutions known to contribute to nucleoside and/or nonnucleoside drug resistance. Since the virus isolates were obtained in 1992, it is unlikely that the infected subjects received protease inhibitors, but we found evidence that one subject acquired a zidovudine (AZT)-resistant HIV-1 strain from a contact who had received AZT. Phylogenetic analysis identified five subtype pol clusters: A, B, C, D, and A'. Comparison of env and pol sequences of the same viruses showed no more recombination events than were already identified on the basis of gag/env comparison (M. Cornelissen, G. Kampinga, F. Zorgdrager, J. Goudsmit, and the UNAIDS Network for HIV Isolation and Characterization, J. Virol. 70:8209-8212, 1996). In one of the known recombinants, a crossover site between subtypes A and C could be identified, and in another, a crossover site could not be identified due to lack of a reference subtype F pol sequence. We analyzed the ds/da ratio of gag, pol, and env sequences of 35 isolates, excluding the recombinants. Our analysis showed that gag and pol are subjected to purifying selection with an average ds/da ratio above 1, independent of the subtype and in contrast with V3 (ds/da approximately 1). Based on the low ds/da ratio of the intergroup analysis of A/E and B/D gag and pol sequences, we analyzed the evolutionary relation between subtypes B and D in more detail by constructing separate phylogenetic trees for synonymous and nonsynonymous substitutions. Our analysis suggests a common ancestry for subtypes B and D that is distinct from that of subtypes A and E.
PMCID: PMC191908  PMID: 9261352
18.  Global analysis of sequence diversity within HIV-1 subtypes across geographic regions 
Future virology  2012;7(5):505-517.
HIV-1 sequence diversity can affect host immune responses and phenotypic characteristics such as antiretroviral drug resistance. Current HIV-1 sequence diversity classification uses phylogeny-based methods to identify subtypes and recombinants, which may overlook distinct subpopulations within subtypes. While local epidemic studies have characterized sequence-level clustering within subtypes using phylogeny, identification of new genotype – phenotype associations are based on mutational correlations at individual sequence positions. We perform a systematic, global analysis of position-specific pol gene sequence variation across geographic regions within HIV-1 subtypes to characterize subpopulation differences that may be missed by standard subtyping methods and sequence-level phylogenetic clustering analyses.
Materials & methods
Analysis was performed on a large, globally diverse, cross-sectional pol sequence dataset. Sequences were partitioned into subtypes and geographic subpopulations within subtypes. For each subtype, we identified positions that varied according to geography using VESPA (viral epidemiology signature pattern analysis) to identify sequence signature differences and a likelihood ratio test adjusted for multiple comparisons to characterize differences in amino acid (AA) frequencies, including minority mutations. Synonymous nonsynonymous analysis program (SNAP) was used to explore the role of evolutionary selection witihin subtype C.
In 7693 protease (PR) and reverse transcriptase (RT) sequences from untreated patients in multiple geographic regions, 11 PR and 11 RT positions exhibited sequence signature differences within subtypes. Thirty six PR and 80 RT positions exhibited within-subtype geography-dependent differences in AA distributions, including minority mutations, at both conserved and variable loci. Among subtype C samples from India and South Africa, nine PR and nine RT positions had significantly different AA distributions, including one PR and five RT positions that differed in consensus AA between regions. A selection analysis of subtype C using SNAP demonstrated that estimated rates of nonsynonymous and synonymous mutations are consistent with the possibility of positive selection across geographic subpopulations within subtypes.
We characterized systematic genotypic pol differences across geographic regions within subtypes that are not captured by the subtyping nomenclature. Awareness of such differences may improve the interpretation of future studies determining the phenotypic consequences of genetic backgrounds.
PMCID: PMC3400699  PMID: 22822410
geography; HIV-1; pol gene sequences; protease; reverse transcriptase; subtyping
19.  Amino Acid Preferences of Retroviral Proteases for Amino-Terminal Positions in a Type 1 Cleavage Site▿ ‡  
Journal of Virology  2008;82(20):10111-10117.
The specificities of the proteases of 11 retroviruses were studied using a series of oligopeptides with amino acid substitutions in the P1, P3, and P4 positions of a naturally occurring type 1 cleavage site (Val-Ser-Gln-Asn-Tyr↓Pro-Ile-Val-Gln) in human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1). Previously, the substrate specificity of the P2 site was studied for the same representative set of retroviral proteases, which included at least one member from each of the seven genera of the family Retroviridae (P. Bagossi, T. Sperka, A. Fehér, J. Kádas, G. Zahuczky, G. Miklóssy, P. Boross, and J. Tözsér, J. Virol. 79:4213-4218, 2005). Our enzyme set comprised the proteases of HIV-1, HIV-2, equine infectious anemia virus, avian myeloblastosis virus (AMV), Mason-Pfizer monkey virus, mouse mammary tumor virus (MMTV), Moloney murine leukemia virus, human T-lymphotropic virus type 1, bovine leukemia virus, walleye dermal sarcoma virus, and human foamy virus. Molecular models were used to interpret the similarities and differences in specificity between these retroviral proteases. The results showed that the retroviral proteases had similar preferences (Phe and Tyr) for the P1 position in this sequence context, but differences were found for the P3 and P4 positions. Importantly, the sizes of the P3 and P4 residues appear to be a major contributor for specificity. The substrate specificities correlated well with the phylogenetic tree of the retroviruses. Furthermore, while the specificities of some enzymes belonging to different genera appeared to be very similar (e.g., those of AMV and MMTV), the specificities of the primate lentiviral proteases substantially differed from that observed for a nonprimate lentiviral protease.
PMCID: PMC2566267  PMID: 18701588
20.  A heteroskedastic error covariance matrix estimator using a first-order conditional autoregressive Markov simulation for deriving asympotical efficient estimates from ecological sampled Anopheles arabiensis aquatic habitat covariates 
Malaria Journal  2009;8:216.
Autoregressive regression coefficients for Anopheles arabiensis aquatic habitat models are usually assessed using global error techniques and are reported as error covariance matrices. A global statistic, however, will summarize error estimates from multiple habitat locations. This makes it difficult to identify where there are clusters of An. arabiensis aquatic habitats of acceptable prediction. It is therefore useful to conduct some form of spatial error analysis to detect clusters of An. arabiensis aquatic habitats based on uncertainty residuals from individual sampled habitats. In this research, a method of error estimation for spatial simulation models was demonstrated using autocorrelation indices and eigenfunction spatial filters to distinguish among the effects of parameter uncertainty on a stochastic simulation of ecological sampled Anopheles aquatic habitat covariates. A test for diagnostic checking error residuals in an An. arabiensis aquatic habitat model may enable intervention efforts targeting productive habitats clusters, based on larval/pupal productivity, by using the asymptotic distribution of parameter estimates from a residual autocovariance matrix. The models considered in this research extends a normal regression analysis previously considered in the literature.
Field and remote-sampled data were collected during July 2006 to December 2007 in Karima rice-village complex in Mwea, Kenya. SAS 9.1.4® was used to explore univariate statistics, correlations, distributions, and to generate global autocorrelation statistics from the ecological sampled datasets. A local autocorrelation index was also generated using spatial covariance parameters (i.e., Moran's Indices) in a SAS/GIS® database. The Moran's statistic was decomposed into orthogonal and uncorrelated synthetic map pattern components using a Poisson model with a gamma-distributed mean (i.e. negative binomial regression). The eigenfunction values from the spatial configuration matrices were then used to define expectations for prior distributions using a Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) algorithm. A set of posterior means were defined in WinBUGS 1.4.3®. After the model had converged, samples from the conditional distributions were used to summarize the posterior distribution of the parameters. Thereafter, a spatial residual trend analyses was used to evaluate variance uncertainty propagation in the model using an autocovariance error matrix.
By specifying coefficient estimates in a Bayesian framework, the covariate number of tillers was found to be a significant predictor, positively associated with An. arabiensis aquatic habitats. The spatial filter models accounted for approximately 19% redundant locational information in the ecological sampled An. arabiensis aquatic habitat data. In the residual error estimation model there was significant positive autocorrelation (i.e., clustering of habitats in geographic space) based on log-transformed larval/pupal data and the sampled covariate depth of habitat.
An autocorrelation error covariance matrix and a spatial filter analyses can prioritize mosquito control strategies by providing a computationally attractive and feasible description of variance uncertainty estimates for correctly identifying clusters of prolific An. arabiensis aquatic habitats based on larval/pupal productivity.
PMCID: PMC2760564  PMID: 19772590
21.  Multidrug-Resistant Tuberculosis in Panama Is Driven by Clonal Expansion of a Multidrug-Resistant Mycobacterium tuberculosis Strain Related to the KZN Extensively Drug-Resistant M. tuberculosis Strain from South Africa 
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2013;51(10):3277-3285.
Multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) is a significant health problem in Panama. The extent to which such cases are the result of primary or acquired resistance and the strain families involved are unknown. We performed whole-genome sequencing of a collection of 66 clinical MDR isolates, along with 31 drug-susceptible isolates, that were isolated in Panama between 2001 and 2010; 78% of the MDR isolates belong to the Latin American-Mediterranean (LAM) family. Drug resistance mutations correlated well with drug susceptibility profiles. To determine the relationships among these strains and to better understand the acquisition of resistance mutations, a phylogenetic tree was constructed based on a genome-wide single-nucleotide polymorphism analysis. The phylogenetic tree shows that the isolates are highly clustered, with a single strain (LAM9-c1) accounting for nearly one-half of the MDR isolates (29/66 isolates). The LAM9-c1 strain was most prevalent among male patients of working age and was associated with high mortality rates. Members of this cluster all share identical mutations conferring resistance to isoniazid (KatG S315T mutation), rifampin (RpoB S531L mutation), and streptomycin (rrs C517T mutation). This evidence of primary resistance supports a model in which MDR-TB in Panama is driven by clonal expansion and ongoing transmission of several strains in the LAM family, including the highly successful MDR strain LAM9-c1. The phylogenetic analysis also shows that the LAM9-c1 strain is closely related to the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) extensively drug-resistant TB strain identified in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The LAM9-c1 and KZN strains likely arose from a recent common ancestor that was transmitted between Panama and South Africa and had the capacity to tolerate an accumulation of multiple resistance mutations.
PMCID: PMC3811646  PMID: 23884993
22.  N348I in the Connection Domain of HIV-1 Reverse Transcriptase Confers Zidovudine and Nevirapine Resistance 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(12):e335.
The catalytically active 66-kDa subunit of the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) reverse transcriptase (RT) consists of DNA polymerase, connection, and ribonuclease H (RNase H) domains. Almost all known RT inhibitor resistance mutations identified to date map to the polymerase domain of the enzyme. However, the connection and RNase H domains are not routinely analysed in clinical samples and none of the genotyping assays available for patient management sequence the entire RT coding region. The British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (the Centre) genotypes clinical isolates up to codon 400 in RT, and our retrospective statistical analyses of the Centre's database have identified an N348I mutation in the RT connection domain in treatment-experienced individuals. The objective of this multidisciplinary study was to establish the in vivo relevance of this mutation and its role in drug resistance.
Methods and Findings
The prevalence of N348I in clinical isolates, the time taken for it to emerge under selective drug pressure, and its association with changes in viral load, specific drug treatment, and known drug resistance mutations was analysed from genotypes, viral loads, and treatment histories from the Centre's database. N348I increased in prevalence from below 1% in 368 treatment-naïve individuals to 12.1% in 1,009 treatment-experienced patients (p = 7.7 × 10−12). N348I appeared early in therapy and was highly associated with thymidine analogue mutations (TAMs) M41L and T215Y/F (p < 0.001), the lamivudine resistance mutations M184V/I (p < 0.001), and non-nucleoside RTI (NNRTI) resistance mutations K103N and Y181C/I (p < 0.001). The association with TAMs and NNRTI resistance mutations was consistent with the selection of N348I in patients treated with regimens that included both zidovudine and nevirapine (odds ratio 2.62, 95% confidence interval 1.43–4.81). The appearance of N348I was associated with a significant increase in viral load (p < 0.001), which was as large as the viral load increases observed for any of the TAMs. However, this analysis did not account for the simultaneous selection of other RT or protease inhibitor resistance mutations on viral load. To delineate the role of this mutation in RT inhibitor resistance, N348I was introduced into HIV-1 molecular clones containing different genetic backbones. N348I decreased zidovudine susceptibility 2- to 4-fold in the context of wild-type HIV-1 or when combined with TAMs. N348I also decreased susceptibility to nevirapine (7.4-fold) and efavirenz (2.5-fold) and significantly potentiated resistance to these drugs when combined with K103N. Biochemical analyses of recombinant RT containing N348I provide supporting evidence for the role of this mutation in zidovudine and NNRTI resistance and give some insight into the molecular mechanism of resistance.
This study provides the first in vivo evidence that treatment with RT inhibitors can select a mutation (i.e., N348I) outside the polymerase domain of the HIV-1 RT that confers dual-class resistance. Its emergence, which can happen early during therapy, may significantly impact on a patient's response to antiretroviral therapies containing zidovudine and nevirapine. This study also provides compelling evidence for investigating the role of other mutations in the connection and RNase H domains in virological failure.
Analyzing HIV sequences from a Canadian cohort, Gilda Tachedjian and colleagues identify a common mutation in a little-studied domain of reverse transcriptase that confers resistance to two drug classes.
Editors' Summary
In the 1980s, infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), was a death sentence. Although the first antiretroviral drugs (compounds that block HIV's life cycle) were developed quickly, single antiretrovirals only transiently suppress HIV infection. HIV rapidly accumulates random changes (mutations) in its genetic material, some of which make it drug resistant. Nowadays, there are many different antiretrovirals. Some inhibit the viral protease, an enzyme used to assemble new viruses. Others block reverse transcriptase (RT), which makes replicates of the genes of the virus. Nucleoside/nucleotide RT inhibitors (NRTIs; for example, zidovudine—also called AZT—and lamivudine) and non-nucleoside RT inhibitors (NNRTIs; for example, nevirapine and efavirenz) interfere with the activity of RT by binding to different sites in its so-called “DNA polymerase domain,” the part of the enzyme that constructs copies of the viral genes. Highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), which was introduced in the mid 1990s, combines several antiretrovirals (usually a protease inhibitor and two NRTIs or an NNRTI and two NRTIs) so that the replication of any virus that develops resistance to one drug is inhibited by the other drugs in the mix. When treated with HAART, HIV infection is usually a chronic, stable condition rather than a fatal disease.
Why Was This Study Done?
Unfortunately, HIV that is resistant to drugs still develops in some patients. To improve the prevention and management of drug resistance, a better understanding of the mutations that cause resistance is needed. Resistance to RT inhibitors usually involves mutations in the DNA polymerase domain that reduce the efficacy of NRTIs (including thymidine analogue mutations—also known as TAMs—and lamivudine-resistance mutations) and NNRTIs. Blood tests that detect these resistance mutations (genotype tests) have been used for several years to guide individualized selection of HIV drugs. Recently, however, mutations outside the DNA polymerase domain have also been implicated in resistance to RT inhibitors. In this study, the researchers have used data and samples collected since the mid 1990s by Canada's British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS to investigate the clinical relevance of a mutation called N348I. This mutation changes an asparagine (a type of amino acid) to an isoleucine in a region of RT known as the connection domain. The researchers have also investigated how this mutation causes resistance to RT inhibitors in laboratory tests.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers analyzed the first two-thirds of the RT gene in viruses isolated from a large number of the Centre's patients. Virus carrying the N348I mutation was present in less than one in 100 patients whose HIV infection had never been treated, but in more than one in 10 treatment-experienced patients. The mutation appeared early in therapy, often in viruses that had TAMs, a lamivudine-resistance mutation called M184V/I, and/or NNRTI resistance mutations. Patients treated with zidovudine and nevirapine were 2.6 times more likely to have the N348I mutation than patients not treated with these drugs. Furthermore, the appearance of the N348I mutation often coincided with an increase in viral load, although other mutations that appeared at a similar time could have contributed to this increase. When the researchers introduced the N348I mutation into HIV growing in the laboratory, they found that it decreased the susceptibility of the virus to zidovudine and to NNRTIs.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that the treatment of patients with RT inhibitors can select a drug-resistant HIV variant that has a mutation outside the enzyme's DNA polymerase domain. Because this N348I mutation, which is commonly selected in vivo and has also been seen in other studies, confers resistance to two classes of RT inhibitors and can emerge early during therapy, it could have a large impact on patient responses to antiviral regimens that contain zidovudine and nevirapine. Although these findings do not show that the N348I mutation alone causes treatment failure, they may have implications for genotypic and phenotypic resistance testing, which is often used to guide treatment decisions. At present, genotype tests for resistance to RT inhibitors look for mutations only in the DNA polymerase domain of RT. This study is the first to demonstrate that it might be worth looking for the N348I mutation (and for other mutations outside the DNA polymerase domain) to improve the ability of genotypic and phenotypic resistance tests to predict treatment outcomes.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on HIV infection and AIDS
HIV InSite has comprehensive information on all aspects of HIV/AIDS, including links to fact sheets (in English, French, and Spanish) about antiretrovirals, and chapters explaining antiretroviral resistance testing
NAM, a UK registered charity, provides information about all aspects of HIV and AIDS, including fact sheets on types of HIV drugs, drug resistance, and resistance tests (in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Russian)
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on HIV/AIDS and on treatment (in English and Spanish)
AIDSinfo, a service of the US Department of Health and Human Services provides information for patients on HIV and its treatment
PMCID: PMC2100143  PMID: 18052601
23.  Human Immunodeficiency Virus Type 1 Reverse-Transcriptase and Protease Subtypes 
The Journal of infectious diseases  2001;184(8):998-1006.
Phylogenetic analysis of the reverse transcriptase (RT) and protease of 117 published complete human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) type 1 genome sequences demonstrated that these genes cluster into distinct subtypes. There was a slightly higher proportion of informative sites in the RT (40.4%) than in the protease (34.8%; P = .03). Although most variation between subtypes was due to synonymous nucleotide substitutions, several subtype-specific amino acid patterns were observed. In the protease, the subtype-specific variants included 7 positions associated with drug resistance. Variants at positions 10, 20, 36, and 82 were more common in non-B isolates, whereas variants at positions 63, 77, and 93 were more common in subtype B isolates. In the RT, the subtype-specific mutations did not include positions associated with anti-retroviral drug resistance. RT and protease sequences from 2246 HIV-infected persons in northern California were also examined: 99.4% of the sequences clustered with subtype B, whereas 0.6% clustered with subtype A, C, or D.
PMCID: PMC2597357  PMID: 11574914
24.  Subdivision of the MDR superfamily of medium-chain dehydrogenases/reductases through iterative hidden Markov model refinement 
BMC Bioinformatics  2010;11:534.
The Medium-chain Dehydrogenases/Reductases (MDR) form a protein superfamily whose size and complexity defeats traditional means of subclassification; it currently has over 15000 members in the databases, the pairwise sequence identity is typically around 25%, there are members from all kingdoms of life, the chain-lengths vary as does the oligomericity, and the members are partaking in a multitude of biological processes. There are profile hidden Markov models (HMMs) available for detecting MDR superfamily members, but none for determining which MDR family each protein belongs to. The current torrential influx of new sequence data enables elucidation of more and more protein families, and at an increasingly fine granularity. However, gathering good quality training data usually requires manual attention by experts and has therefore been the rate limiting step for expanding the number of available models.
We have developed an automated algorithm for HMM refinement that produces stable and reliable models for protein families. This algorithm uses relationships found in data to generate confident seed sets. Using this algorithm we have produced HMMs for 86 distinct MDR families and 34 of their subfamilies which can be used in automated annotation of new sequences. We find that MDR forms with 2 Zn2+ ions in general are dehydrogenases, while MDR forms with no Zn2+ in general are reductases. Furthermore, in Bacteria MDRs without Zn2+ are more frequent than those with Zn2+, while the opposite is true for eukaryotic MDRs, indicating that Zn2+ has been recruited into the MDR superfamily after the initial life kingdom separations. We have also developed a web site that provides textual and numeric search against various characterised MDR family properties, as well as sequence scan functions for reliable classification of novel MDR sequences.
Our method of refinement can be readily applied to create stable and reliable HMMs for both MDR and other protein families, and to confidently subdivide large and complex protein superfamilies. HMMs created using this algorithm correspond to evolutionary entities, making resolution of overlapping models straightforward. The implementation and support scripts for running the algorithm on computer clusters are available as open source software, and the database files underlying the web site are freely downloadable. The web site also makes our findings directly useful also for non-bioinformaticians.
PMCID: PMC2976758  PMID: 20979641
25.  HIV-1 Transmission during Early Infection in Men Who Have Sex with Men: A Phylodynamic Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(12):e1001568.
Erik Volz and colleagues use HIV genetic information from a cohort of men who have sex with men in Detroit, USA to dissect the timing of onward transmission during HIV infection.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Conventional epidemiological surveillance of infectious diseases is focused on characterization of incident infections and estimation of the number of prevalent infections. Advances in methods for the analysis of the population-level genetic variation of viruses can potentially provide information about donors, not just recipients, of infection. Genetic sequences from many viruses are increasingly abundant, especially HIV, which is routinely sequenced for surveillance of drug resistance mutations. We conducted a phylodynamic analysis of HIV genetic sequence data and surveillance data from a US population of men who have sex with men (MSM) and estimated incidence and transmission rates by stage of infection.
Methods and Findings
We analyzed 662 HIV-1 subtype B sequences collected between October 14, 2004, and February 24, 2012, from MSM in the Detroit metropolitan area, Michigan. These sequences were cross-referenced with a database of 30,200 patients diagnosed with HIV infection in the state of Michigan, which includes clinical information that is informative about the recency of infection at the time of diagnosis. These data were analyzed using recently developed population genetic methods that have enabled the estimation of transmission rates from the population-level genetic diversity of the virus. We found that genetic data are highly informative about HIV donors in ways that standard surveillance data are not. Genetic data are especially informative about the stage of infection of donors at the point of transmission. We estimate that 44.7% (95% CI, 42.2%–46.4%) of transmissions occur during the first year of infection.
In this study, almost half of transmissions occurred within the first year of HIV infection in MSM. Our conclusions may be sensitive to un-modeled intra-host evolutionary dynamics, un-modeled sexual risk behavior, and uncertainty in the stage of infected hosts at the time of sampling. The intensity of transmission during early infection may have significance for public health interventions based on early treatment of newly diagnosed individuals.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Since the first recorded case of AIDS in 1981, the number of people infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, has risen steadily. About 34 million people are currently HIV-positive, and about 2.5 million people become newly infected with HIV every year. Because HIV is usually transmitted through unprotected sex with an infected partner, individuals can reduce their risk of infection by abstaining from sex, by having only one or a few partners, and by always using condoms. Most people do not become ill immediately after infection with HIV, although some develop a short flu-like illness. The next stage of HIV infection, which may last more than ten years, also has no major symptoms, but during this stage, HIV slowly destroys immune system cells. Eventually, the immune system can no longer fight off infections by other disease-causing organisms, and HIV-positive people then develop one or more life-threatening AIDS-defining conditions, including unusual infections and specific types of cancer. HIV infection can be controlled, but not cured, by taking a daily cocktail of antiretroviral drugs.
Why Was This Study Done?
The design of effective programs to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS depends on knowing how HIV transmissibility varies over the course of HIV infection. Consider, for example, a prevention strategy that focuses on increasing treatment rates: antiretroviral drugs, in addition to reducing illness and death among HIV-positive people, reduce HIV transmission from HIV-positive individuals. “Treatment as prevention” can only block transmissions that occur after diagnosis and entry into care. However, the transmissibility of HIV per sexual contact depends on a person's viral load, which peaks during early HIV infection, when people are often unaware of their HIV status and may still be following the high-risk patterns of sexual behavior that caused their own infection. Epidemiological surveillance data (information on HIV infections within populations) can be used to estimate how many new HIV infections occur within a population annually (HIV incidence) and the proportion of the population that is HIV-positive (HIV prevalence), but cannot be used to estimate the timing of transmission events. In this study, the researchers use “phylodynamic analysis” to estimate HIV incidence and prevalence and the timing of HIV transmission during infection. HIV, like many other viruses, rapidly accumulates genetic changes. The timing of transmission influences the pattern of these changes. Viral phylodynamic analysis—the quantitative study of how epidemiological, immunological, and evolutionary processes shape viral phylogenies (evolutionary trees)—can therefore provide estimates of transmission dynamics.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers obtained HIV sequence data (collected for routine surveillance of antiretroviral resistance mutations) and epidemiological surveillance data (including information on the stage of infection at diagnosis) for 662 HIV-positive men who have sex with men living in the Detroit metropolitan area of Michigan. They constructed a phylogenetic tree from the sequences using a “relaxed clock” approach and then fitted an epidemiological model (a mathematical model that represents the progress of individual patients through various stages of HIV infection) to the sequence data. Their approach, which integrates surveillance data and genetic data, yielded estimates of HIV incidence and prevalence among the study population similar to those obtained from surveillance data alone. However, it also provided information about HIV transmission that could not be obtained from surveillance data alone. In particular, it allowed the researchers to estimate that, in the current HIV epidemic among men who have sex with men in Detroit, 44.7% of HIV transmissions occur during the first year of infection.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The robustness of these findings depends on the validity of the assumptions included in the researchers' population genetic model and on the accuracy of the data fed into the model, and may not be generalizable to other cities or to other risk groups. Nevertheless, the findings of this analysis, which can be repeated in any setting where HIV sequence data for individual patients can be linked to patient-specific clinical and behavioral information, have important implications for HIV control strategies based on the early treatment of newly diagnosed individuals. Because relatively few infected individuals are diagnosed during early HIV infection, when the HIV transmission rate is high, it is unlikely, suggest the researchers, that the “treatment as prevention” strategy will effectively control the spread of HIV unless there are very high rates of HIV testing and treatment.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
This study is further discussed in a PLOS Medicine Perspective by Timothy Hallett
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on HIV infection and AIDS
NAM/aidsmap provides basic information about HIV/AIDS and summaries of recent research findings on HIV care and treatment
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity, on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on HIV treatment as prevention (in English and Spanish)
The PLOS Medicine Collection Investigating the Impact of Treatment on New HIV Infections provides more information about HIV treatment as prevention
A PLOS Computational Biology Topic Page (a review article that is a published copy of record of a dynamic version of the article as found in Wikipedia) about viral phylodynamics is available
The US National Institute of Health–funded HIV Sequence Database contains HIV sequences and tools to analyze these sequences
Patient stories about living with HIV/AIDS are available through Avert; the charity website Healthtalkonline also provides personal stories about living with HIV
PMCID: PMC3858227  PMID: 24339751

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