Genome-wide networks of amino acid covariances are common among viruses

Donlin MJ, Szeto B, Gohara DW, Aurora R, Tavis JE

J. Virol. 2012 Mar;86(6):3050-63

PMID: 22238298


Coordinated variation among positions in amino acid sequence alignments can reveal genetic dependencies at noncontiguous positions, but methods to assess these interactions are incompletely developed. Previously, we found genome-wide networks of covarying residue positions in the hepatitis C virus genome (R. Aurora, M. J. Donlin, N. A. Cannon, and J. E. Tavis, J. Clin. Invest. 119:225-236, 2009). Here, we asked whether such networks are present in a diverse set of viruses and, if so, what they may imply about viral biology. Viral sequences were obtained for 16 viruses in 13 species from 9 families. The entire viral coding potential for each virus was aligned, all possible amino acid covariances were identified using the observed-minus-expected-squared algorithm at a false-discovery rate of ≤1%, and networks of covariances were assessed using standard methods. Covariances that spanned the viral coding potential were common in all viruses. In all cases, the covariances formed a single network that contained essentially all of the covariances. The hepatitis C virus networks had hub-and-spoke topologies, but all other networks had random topologies with an unusually large number of highly connected nodes. These results indicate that genome-wide networks of genetic associations and the coordinated evolution they imply are very common in viral genomes, that the networks rarely have the hub-and-spoke topology that dominates other biological networks, and that network topologies can vary substantially even within a given viral group. Five examples with hepatitis B virus and poliovirus are presented to illustrate how covariance network analysis can lead to inferences about viral biology.

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