Hepatitis C virus infection (HCV) is one of the most pressing health emergencies in the world with a global prevalence of about 170 million people chronically infected worldwide. In Europe, Italy has the highest HCV prevalence (3 - 4.4%) with peaks of 12.6 - 26% in Southern regions and the major islands. In Italy HCV genotype 1b prevails, and genotype 4 is mainly found in the south of the country where the prevalence is particularly high in regions such as Calabria.
Phylogenetics analysis is a molecular tool widely used to study rapidly-evolving RNA viruses that establish chronic infections such as HCV. Searching the scientific literature, it was found that thirty-nine genetic studies on HCV genotypes have been carried out in Italy between 1997 to 2012 years. However, phylogenetic analysis was performed only in fourteen out of thirty-nine HCV studies (36%) considered. Monitoring the genetic evolution of HCV is an essential step to control the local as well as global HCV epidemic and to develop efficient preventive and therapeutic strategies.
The aim of this study was to reconstruct the evolutionary dynamics of the A(H1N1)pdm09 influenza virus in Italy during two epidemic seasons (2009/2010 and 2010/2011) in the light of the forces driving the evolution of the virus. Nearly six thousands respiratory specimens were collected from patients with influenza-like illness within the framework of the Italian Influenza Surveillance Network, and the A(H1N1)pdm09 hemagglutinin (HA) gene was amplified and directly sequenced from 227 of these. Phylodynamic and phylogeographical analyses were made using a Bayesian Markov Chain Monte Carlo method, and codon-specific positive selection acting on the HA coding sequence was evaluated. The global and local phylogenetic analyses showed that all of the Italian sequences sampled in the post-pandemic (2010/2011) season grouped into at least four highly significant Italian clades, whereas those of the pandemic season (2009/2010) were interspersed with isolates from other countries at the tree root. The time of the most recent common ancestor of the strains circulating in the pandemic season in Italy was estimated to be between the spring and summer of 2009, whereas the Italian clades of the post-pandemic season originated in the spring of 2010 and showed radiation in the summer/autumn of the same year; this was confirmed by a Bayesian skyline plot showing the biphasic growth of the effective number of infections. The local phylogeography analysis showed that the first season of infection originated in Northern Italian localities with high density populations, whereas the second involved less densely populated localities, in line with a gravity-like model of geographical dispersion. Two HA sites, codons 97 and 222, were under positive selection. In conclusion, the A(H1N1)pdm09 virus was introduced into Italy in the spring of 2009 by means of multiple importations. This was followed by repeated founder effects in the post-pandemic period that originated specific Italian clades.
HIV-1 CRF02_AG accounts for >50% of infected individuals in Cameroon. CRF02_AG prevalence has been increasing both in Africa and Europe, particularly in Italy because of migrations from the sub-Saharan region. This study investigated the molecular epidemiology of CRF02_AG in Cameroon by employing Bayesian phylodynamics and analyzed the relationship between HIV-1 CRF02_AG isolates circulating in Italy and those prevalent in Africa to understand the link between the two epidemics. Among 291 Cameroonian reverse transcriptase sequences analyzed, about 70% clustered within three distinct clades, two of which shared a most recent common ancestor, all related to sequences from Western Africa. The major Cameroonian clades emerged during the mid-1970s and slowly spread during the next 30 years. Little or no geographic structure was detected within these clades. One of the major driving forces of the epidemic was likely the high accessibility between locations in Southern Cameroon contributing to the mobility of the population. The remaining Cameroonian sequences and the new strains isolated from Italian patients were interspersed mainly within West and Central African sequences in the tree, indicating a continuous exchange of CRF02_AG viral strains between Cameroon and other African countries, as well as multiple independent introductions in the Italian population. The evaluation of the spread of CRF02_AG may provide significant insight about the future dynamics of the Italian and European epidemic.
About 40% of the Italian HIV-1 epidemic due to non-B variants is sustained by F1 clade, which circulates at high prevalence in South America and Eastern Europe. Aim of this study was to define clade F1 origin, population dynamics and epidemiological networks through phylogenetic approaches. We analyzed pol sequences of 343 patients carrying F1 subtype stored in the ARCA database from 1998 to 2009. Citizenship of patients was as follows: 72.6% Italians, 9.3% South Americans and 7.3% Rumanians. Heterosexuals, Homo-bisexuals, Intravenous Drug Users accounted for 58.1%, 24.0% and 8.8% of patients, respectively. Phylogenetic analysis indicated that 70% of sequences clustered in 27 transmission networks. Two distinct groups were identified; the first clade, encompassing 56 sequences, included all Rumanian patients. The second group involved the remaining clusters and included 10 South American Homo-bisexuals in 9 distinct clusters. Heterosexual modality of infection was significantly associated with the probability to be detected in transmission networks. Heterosexuals were prevalent either among Italians (67.2%) or Rumanians (50%); by contrast, Homo-bisexuals accounted for 71.4% of South Americans. Among patients with resistant strains the proportion of clustering sequences was 57.1%, involving 14 clusters (51.8%). Resistance in clusters tended to be higher in South Americans (28.6%) compared to Italian (17.7%) and Rumanian patients (14.3%). A striking proportion of epidemiological networks could be identified in heterosexuals carrying F1 subtype residing in Italy. Italian Heterosexual males predominated within epidemiological clusters while foreign patients were mainly Heterosexual Rumanians, both males and females, and South American Homo-bisexuals. Tree topology suggested that F1 variant from South America gave rise to the Italian F1 epidemic through multiple introduction events. The contact tracing also revealed an unexpected burden of resistance in epidemiological clusters underlying the need of public interventions to limit the spread of non-B subtypes and transmitted drug resistance.
Hepatitis B virus genotype D can be found in many parts of the world and is the most prevalent strain in south-eastern Europe, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East, and the Indian sub-continent. The epidemiological history of the D genotype and its subgenotypes is still obscure because of the scarcity of appropriate studies. We retrieved from public databases a total of 312 gene P sequences of HBV genotype D isolated in various countries throughout the world, and reconstructed the spatio-temporal evolutionary dynamics of the HBV-D epidemic using a Bayesian framework.
The phylogeographical analysis showed that India had the highest posterior probability of being the location of the tree root, whereas central Asia was the most probable location of the common ancestor of subgenotypes D1–D3. HBV-D5 (identified in native Indian populations) diverged from the tree root earlier than D1–D3. The time of the most recent common ancestor (tMRCA) of the tree root was 128 years ago, which suggests that the common ancestor of the currently circulating subgenotypes existed in the second half of the XIX century. The mean tMRCA of subgenotypes D1–D3 was between the 1940s and the 1950–60s. On the basis of our phylogeographic reconstruction, it seems that HBV-D reached the Mediterranean area in the middle of the XX century by means of at least two routes: the first pathway (mainly due to the spread of subgenotype D1) crossing the Middle East and reaching north Africa and the eastern Mediterranean, and the second pathway (closely associated with D2) that crossed the former Soviet Union and reached eastern Europe and the Mediterranean through Albania. We hypothesise that the main route of dispersion of genotype D was the unsafe use of injections and drug addiction.
Differences in genomic sequences are crucial for the classification of viruses into different species. In this work, viral DNA sequences belonging to the human polyomaviruses BKPyV, JCPyV, KIPyV, WUPyV, and MCPyV are analyzed using a logic data mining method in order to identify the nucleotides which are able to distinguish the five different human polyomaviruses.
The approach presented in this work is successful as it discovers several logic rules that effectively characterize the different five studied polyomaviruses. The individuated logic rules are able to separate precisely one viral type from the other and to assign an unknown DNA sequence to one of the five analyzed polyomaviruses.
The data mining analysis is performed by considering the complete sequences of the viruses and the sequences of the different gene regions separately, obtaining in both cases extremely high correct recognition rates.
Occult Hepatitis B Infection (OBI) is characterized by absence of serum HBsAg and persistence of HBV-DNA in liver tissue, with low to undetectable serum HBV-DNA. The mechanisms underlying OBI remain to be clarified. To evaluate if specific point mutations of HBV genome may be associated with OBI, we applied an approach based on bioinformatics analysis of complete genome HBV sequences. In addition, the feasibility of bioinformatics prediction models to classify HBV infections into OBI and non-OBI by molecular data was evaluated.
41 OBI and 162 non-OBI complete genome sequences were retrieved from GenBank, aligned and subjected to univariable analysis including statistical evaluation. Their S coding region was analyzed for Stop codon mutations too, while S amino acid variability could be evaluated for genotype D only, due to the too small number of available complete genome OBI sequences from other genotypes.
Prediction models were derived by multivariable analysis using Logistic Regression, Rule Induction and Random Forest approaches, with extra-sample error estimation by Multiple ten-fold Cross-Validation (MCV). Models were compared by t-test on the Area Under the Receiver Operating Characteristic curve (AUC) distributions obtained from the MCV runs for each model against the best-performing model.
Variations in seven nucleotide positions were significantly associated with OBI, and occurred in 11 out of 41 OBI sequences (26.8%): likely, other mutations did not reach statistical significance due to the small size of OBI dataset. All variations affected at least one HBV coding region, but none of them mapped to regulative elements. All viral proteins, with the only exception of the X, were affected. Stop codons in the S, that might account for absence of serum HBsAg, were not significantly enriched in OBI sequences. In genotype D, amino acid variability in the S was higher in OBI than non-OBI, particularly in the immunodominant region. A Random Forest prediction model showed the best performance, but all models were not satisfactory in terms of specificity, due to the small sample size of OBIs; however results are promising in the perspective of a broader dataset of complete genome OBI sequences.
Data suggest that point mutations rarely occur in regulative elements of HBV, if ever, and contribute to OBI by affecting different viral proteins, suggesting heterogeneous mechanisms may be responsible for OBI, including, at least in genotype D, an escape mutation mechanism due to imperfect immune control. It appears possible to derive prediction models based on molecular data when a larger set of complete genome OBI sequences will become available.
Hepatitis B Virus; occult infection; bioinformatics
The ability to detect HIV-2 and to discriminate between HIV-1 and HIV-2 infections was evaluated in 46 serum samples from Guinea-Bissau (GB) and Guinea-Conakry (GC) using serological tests and commercial (HIV-1) and in-house (HIV-2) real-time PCR assays. Samples were first identified as HIV-2 positive by Genie I/II assay in GB and GC. HIV positivity was detected in 44 of 46 samples by all screening and confirmatory assays. A diagnostic strategy based on Inno-LIA and HIV-1/2 RNA detection assays allowed accurate discrimination between HIV-1 and HIV-2 in 84% of single infections and confirmed 32% of double infections. In samples with double reactivity in the Inno-LIA test and no detection of both genomes, cross-reactivity likely hampered the identification of true double infections. In conclusion, the implementation of a diagnostic strategy, based on multiple specific serological tests and highly sensitive quantitative PCR assays, is recommended to ensure accurate HIV-2 diagnosis and appropriate therapy for individuals from areas in which the virus is endemic.
HIV/HCV coinfected individuals under highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) represent an interesting model for the investigation of the role played by the immune system in driving the evolution of the HCV quasispecies. We prospectively studied the intra-host evolution of the HCV heterogeneity in 8 coinfected subjects, selected from a cohort of 32 patients initiating HAART: 5 immunological responders (group A) and 3 immunological non-responders (group B), and in two HCV singly infected controls not assuming drugs (group C). For all these subjects at least two serial samples obtained at the first observation (before HAART) and more than 1 year later, underwent clonal sequence analysis of partial E1/E2 sequences, encompassing the whole HVR1. Evolutionary rates, dated phylogenies and population dynamics were co-estimated by using a Bayesian Markov Chain Monte Carlo approach, and site specific selection pressures were estimated by maximum likelihood-based methods. The intra-host evolutionary rates of HCV quasispecies was 10 times higher in subjects treated with HAART than in controls without immunodeficiency (1.9 and 2.3×10−3 sub/site/month in group A and B and 0.29×10−3 sub/site/month in group C individuals). The within-host Bayesian Skyline plot analysis showed an exponential growth of the quasispecies populations in immunological responders, coinciding with a peak in CD4 cell counts. On the contrary, quasispecies population remained constant in group B and in group C controls. A significant positive selection pressure was detected in a half of the patients under HAART and in none of the group C controls. Several sites under significant positive selection were described, mainly included in the HVR1. Our data indicate that different forces, in addition to the selection pressure, drive an exceptionally fast evolution of HCV during HAART immune restoration. We hypothesize that an important role is played by the enlargement of the viral replicative space.
During the spring of 2009, a new influenza A (H1N1) virus of swine origin emerged and spread worldwide causing a pandemic influenza. Here, 329 naso-pharyngeal swabs collected from patients with flu-like symptoms were analyzed by real-time PCR for the presence of H1N1 2009 pandemic virus. Twenty-five samples collected from immunocompetent and immunodepressed patients contained the H1N1 pandemic virus. Phylogenetic analysis of the hemagglutinin and neuraminidase genes showed no obvious differences in terms of similarity and/or homology between the sequences identified in immunocompetent individuals and those obtained from immunocompromised patients. Pre-existing clinical conditions may influence the outcome of H1N1 disease.
H1N1 pandemic virus; swine flu; respiratory infections; phylogenetic analysis; influenza surface antigens.
To investigate an association between KI and WU polyomavirus (KIPyV and WUPyV) infections and CD4+ cell counts, we tested HIV-1–positive patients and blood donors. No association was found between cell counts and virus infections in HIV-1–positive patients. Frequency of KIPyV infection was similar for both groups. WUPyV was more frequent in HIV-1–positive patients.
HIV-1; KI polyomavirus; WU polyomavirus; KIPyV; WUPyV; viruses; CD4+ cell counts; Italy; dispatch
The purpose of this work was to explore the knowledge and acceptance of Varicella Zoster Virus (VZV)-Herpes Zoster (HZ) vaccination in the general Italian population, where the HZ vaccine has not yet been distributed, using a prevalence study of subjects from two regions in Italy.
A group of 3,173 individuals were interviewed using a questionnaire. The youngest age group (≤ 20 year) was composed of students interviewed at university. The middle age group (21-40 years) and the older age group (≥ 41 years) were interviewed by general practitioners in their office.
In both regions, the majority of subjects had been infected with varicella, and only 165 (5.2%) subjects reported receiving the VZV vaccination. Regarding HZ, 2,749 (86.6%) individuals stated that they knew of the virus and 2,233 (70%) were willing to be vaccinated against HZ. The majority of people willing to be vaccinated were in the middle and older age groups (36.6% and 44.7%, respectively).
Compliance versus vaccination results were satisfactory and probably, with the upcoming availability of the HZ vaccine in Italy, adults will be favourably disposed towards vaccination.
Little information is available about the prevalence of resistance mutations to reverse transcriptase (RT) and protease (PR) inhibitors of HIV-1, after the introduction of antiretroviral treatment in Bulgaria. To fill this gap, we analyzed 80 plasma samples from HIV-1-infected Bulgarian patients, 22 naive at antiretroviral treatment (ARV) and 58 ARV experienced. The subtypes B and A resulted in the two most prevalent (41 patients and 18 patients, respectively). The proportion of subtype B among naive and treated patients was similar in each group (57% vs. 47%, p = 0.62), while a major proportion of subtypes A was present in drug-naive patients rather than in treated patients [8/22 (36.4%) vs. 10/58 (17.2%), p = 0.08]. Two (9.1%) naive patients and 40 (70.1%) drug-experienced patients had viruses carrying at least one mutation conferring resistance to ARV drugs. Of 57 patients having experience with nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTI), 32 (56.1%) had NRTI resistance mutations; 8/14 (57.2%) patients having experience with non-NRTI (NNRTI) had viruses carrying NNRTI resistance mutations; and 21/46 (45.7%) patients having experience with protease inhibitors (PI) had PI resistance mutations. The commonest resistance mutations resulted in the NRTI mutation M184V (42.1%) and the PI mutation L90M (24.1%). In conclusion, due to the detection of the substantial transmission of resistant variants to newly infected individuals, continuous surveillance is required, since greater access to highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) will be expected in Bulgaria. Furthermore, surveillance of PR and RT sequences is also convenient to monitor the introduction of nonsubtype B HIV-1 strains in Bulgaria.
Viruses; polyomavirus; HIV-1; Italy; letter
The E1 protein of Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) can be dissected into two distinct hydrophobic regions: a central domain containing an hypothetical fusion peptide (FP), and a C-terminal domain (CT) comprising two segments, a pre-anchor and a trans-membrane (TM) region. In the currently accepted model of the viral fusion process, the FP and the TM regions are considered to be closely juxtaposed in the post-fusion structure and their physical interaction cannot be excluded. In the present study, we took advantage of the natural sequence variability present among HCV strains to test, by purely sequence-based computational tools, the hypothesis that in this virus the fusion process involves the physical interaction of the FP and CT regions of E1.
Two computational approaches were applied. The first one is based on the co-evolution paradigm of interacting peptides and consequently on the correlation between the distance matrices generated by the sequence alignment method applied to FP and CT primary structures, respectively. In spite of the relatively low random genetic drift between genotypes, co-evolution analysis of sequences from five HCV genotypes revealed a greater correlation between the FP and CT domains than respect to a control HCV sequence from Core protein, so giving a clear, albeit still inconclusive, support to the physical interaction hypothesis.
The second approach relies upon a non-linear signal analysis method widely used in protein science called Recurrence Quantification Analysis (RQA). This method allows for a direct comparison of domains for the presence of common hydrophobicity patterns, on which the physical interaction is based upon. RQA greatly strengthened the reliability of the hypothesis by the scoring of a lot of cross-recurrences between FP and CT peptides hydrophobicity patterning largely outnumbering chance expectations and pointing to putative interaction sites. Intriguingly, mutations in the CT region of E1, reducing the fusion process in vitro, strongly reduced the amount of cross-recurrence further supporting interaction between this region and FP.
Our results support a fusion model for HCV in which the FP and the C-terminal region of E1 are juxtaposed and interact in the post-fusion structure. These findings have general implications for viruses, as any visualization of the post-fusion FP-TM complex has been precluded by the impossibility to obtain crystallised viral fusion proteins containing the trans-membrane region. This limitation gives to sequence based modelling efforts a crucial role in the sketching of a molecular interpretation of the fusion process. Moreover, our data also have a more general relevance for cell biology as the mechanism of intracellular fusion showed remarkable similarities with viral fusion
The transmission of HIV-1 drug-resistant strains in drug naive patients may seriously compromise the efficacy of a first-line antiretroviral treatment. To better define this problem, a study in a cohort of newly diagnosed HIV-1 infected individuals has been conducted. This study is aimed to assess the prevalence and the patterns of the mutations recently associated with transmitted drug resistance in the reverse transcriptase (RT) and in protease (PR) of HIV-1.
Prevalence of transmitted drug resistant strains is determined in 255 newly diagnosed HIV-1 infected patients enrolled in different counselling and testing (CT) centres in Central Italy; the Avidity Index (AI) on the first available serum sample is also used to estimate time since infection. Logistic regression models are used to determine factors associated with infection by drug resistant HIV-1 strains.
The prevalence of HIV-1 strains with at least one major drug resistance mutation is 5.9% (15/255); moreover, 3.9% (10/255) of patients is infected with HIV nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NRTI)-resistant viruses, 3.5% (9/255) with HIV non-NRTI-resistant viruses and 0.4% (1/255) with HIV protease inhibitor (PI)-resistant viruses. Most importantly, almost half (60.0%) of patients carries HIV-1 resistant strains with more than one major drug resistance mutation. In addition, patients who had acquired HIV through homosexual intercourses are more likely to harbour a virus with at least one primary resistance mutation (OR 7.7; 95% CI: 1.7–35.0, P = 0.008).
The prevalence of drug resistant HIV-1 strains among newly diagnosed individuals in Central Italy is consistent with the data from other European countries. Nevertheless, the presence of drug-resistance HIV-1 mutations in complex patterns highlights an additional potential risk for public health and strongly supports the extension of wide genotyping to newly diagnosed HIV-1 infected patients.
Little is known about the HIV-1 epidemic in Balkan countries. To fill the gap, we investigated the viral genetic diversity in Bulgaria, by sequencing and phylogenetic characterization of 86 plasma samples collected between 2002 and 2006 from seropositive individuals diagnosed within 1986–2006. Analysis of pol gene sequences assigned 51% of the samples to HIV-1 subtype B and 27% to subtype A1. HIV-1 subtype C, F, G, H, and a few putative recombinant forms were also found. Phylogenetic and molecular clock analysis showed a continuous exchange of subtype A and B between Bulgaria and Western as well as other Eastern European countries. At least three separate introductions of HIV-1 subtype A and four of HIV-1 subtype B have occurred within the past 25 years in Bulgaria. The central geographic location of Bulgaria, the substantial genetic heterogeneity of the epidemic with multiple subtypes, and the significant viral flow observed to and from the Balkan countries have the potential to modify the current HIV-1 epidemiological structure in Europe and highlight the importance of more extensive and continuous monitoring of the epidemic in the Balkans.
HIV-1 epidemic in Western Europe is largely due to subtype B. Little is known about the HIV-1 in Eastern Europe, but a few studies have shown that non-B subtypes are quite common. In Albania, where a recent study estimated a ten-fold increase of AIDS incidence during the last six years, subtype A and B account for 90% of the know infections.
We investigated the demographic history of HIV-1 subtype A and B in Albania by using a statistical framework based on coalescent theory and phylogeography. High-resolution phylogenetic and molecular clock analysis showed a limited introduction to the Balkan country of subtype A during the late 1980s followed by an epidemic outburst in the early 1990s. In contrast, subtype B was apparently introduced multiple times between the mid-1970s and mid-1980s. Both subtypes are growing exponentially, although the HIV-1A epidemic displays a faster growth rate, and a significantly higher basic reproductive number R0. HIV-1A gene flow occurs primarily from the capital Tirane, in the center of the country, to the periphery, while HIV-1B flow is characterized by a balanced exchange between center and periphery. Finally, we calculated that the actual number of infections in Albania is at least two orders of magnitude higher than previously thought.
Our analysis demonstrates the power of recently developed computational tools to investigate molecular epidemiology of pathogens, and emphasize the complex factors involved in the establishment of HIV-1 epidemics. We suggest that a significant correlation exists between HIV-1 exponential spread and the socio-political changes occurred during the Balkan wars. The fast growth of a relatively new non-B epidemic in the Balkans may have significant consequences for the evolution of HIV-1 epidemiology in neighboring countries in Eastern and Western Europe.
Chikungunya virus; dengue virus; dengue fever; travelers; letter
Treatment of feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) infection has been hampered by the absence of a specific combination antiretroviral treatment (ART). Integrase strand transfer inhibitors (INSTIs) are emerging as a promising new drug class for HIV-1 treatment, and we evaluated the possibility of inhibiting FIV replication using INSTIs.
Phylogenetic analysis of lentiviral integrase (IN) sequences was carried out using the PAUP* software. A theoretical three-dimensional structure of the FIV IN catalytic core domain (CCD) was obtained by homology modeling based on a crystal structure of HIV-1 IN CCD. The interaction of the transferred strand of viral DNA with the catalytic cavity of FIV IN was deduced from a crystal structure of a structurally similar transposase complexed with transposable DNA. Molecular docking simulations were conducted using a genetic algorithm (GOLD). Antiviral activity was tested in feline lymphoblastoid MBM cells acutely infected with the FIV Petaluma strain. Circular and total proviral DNA was quantified by real-time PCR.
The calculated INSTI-binding sites were found to be nearly identical in FIV and HIV-1 IN CCDs. The close similarity of primate and feline lentivirus IN CCDs was also supported by phylogenetic analysis. In line with these bioinformatic analyses, FIV replication was efficiently inhibited in acutely infected cell cultures by three investigational INSTIs, designed for HIV-1 and belonging to different classes. Of note, the naphthyridine carboxamide INSTI, L-870,810 displayed an EC50 in the low nanomolar range. Inhibition of FIV integration in situ was shown by real-time PCR experiments that revealed accumulation of circular forms of FIV DNA within cells treated with L-870,810.
We report a drug class (other than nucleosidic reverse transcriptase inhibitors) that is capable of inhibiting FIV replication in vitro. The present study helped establish L-870,810, a compound successfully tested in human clinical trials, as one of the most potent anti-FIV agents ever tested in vitro. This finding may provide new avenues for treating FIV infection and contribute to the development of a small animal model mimicking the effects of ART in humans.
To define the extent of sequence conservation in human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) reverse transcriptase (RT) in vivo, the first 320 amino acids of RT obtained from 2,236 plasma-derived samples from a well-defined cohort of 1,704 HIV-1-infected individuals (457 drug naïve and 1,247 drug treated) were analyzed and examined in structural terms. In naïve patients, 233 out of these 320 residues (73%) were conserved (<1% variability). The majority of invariant amino acids clustered into defined regions comprising between 5 and 29 consecutive residues. Of the nine longest invariant regions identified, some contained residues and domains critical for enzyme stability and function. In patients treated with RT inhibitors, despite profound drug pressure and the appearance of mutations primarily associated with resistance, 202 amino acids (63%) remained highly conserved and appeared mostly distributed in regions of variable length. This finding suggests that participation of consecutive residues in structural domains is strictly required for cooperative functions and sustainability of HIV-1 RT activity. Besides confirming the conservation of amino acids that are already known to be important for catalytic activity, stability of the heterodimer interface, and/or primer/template binding, the other 62 new invariable residues are now identified and mapped onto the three-dimensional structure of the enzyme. This new knowledge could be of help in the structure-based design of novel resistance-evading drugs.