Posts Tagged ‘Evolution’

Hidden evolutionary complexity of Nucleo-Cytoplasmic Large DNA viruses of eukaryotes

15 August, 2012

See on Scoop.itVirology and Bioinformatics from Virology.ca

The Nucleo-Cytoplasmic Large DNA Viruses (NCLDV) constitute an apparently monophyletic group that consists of at least 6 families of viruses infecting a broad variety of eukaryotic hosts. A comprehensive genome comparison and maximum-likelihood reconstruction of the NCLDV evolution revealed a set of approximately 50 conserved, core genes that could be mapped to the genome of the common ancestor of this class of eukaryotic viruses.

Results
We performed a detailed phylogenetic analysis of these core NCLDV genes and applied the constrained tree approach to show that the majority of the core genes are unlikely to be monophyletic. Several of the core genes have been independently acquired from different sources by different NCLDV lineages whereas for the majority of these genes displacement by homologs from cellular organisms in one or more groups of the NCLDV was demonstrated.

Conclusions
A detailed study of the evolution of the genomic core of the NCLDV reveals substantial complexity and diversity of evolutionary scenarios that was largely unsuspected previously. The phylogenetic coherence between the core genes is sufficient to validate the hypothesis on the evolution of all NCLDV from a common ancestral virus although the set of ancestral genes might be smaller than previously inferred from patterns of gene presence-absence.

 

Interesting stuff!  Strengthens my contention that  “…a virus is an infectious acellular entity composed of compatible genomic components derived from a pool of genetic elements” - http://rybicki.wordpress.com/2012/07/10/a-feeling-for-the-molechism-revisited/

Baculovirus image from my collection

See on www.virologyj.com

Adaptive Changes in Alphavirus mRNA Translation Allowed Colonization of Vertebrate Hosts

10 August, 2012

See on Scoop.itVirology and Bioinformatics from Virology.ca

“Genetic, phylogenetic, and biochemical data presented here support an evolutionary scenario for the natural history of alphaviruses, in which the acquisition of DLP structure in their mRNAs probably allowed the colonization of vertebrate host and the consequent geographic expansion of some of these viruses worldwide.”

 

I have taught for some time now that the evolution of many mammalian viruses must have involved adaptation of originally (and sometimes still) insect-infecting agents – given that insects crawled out onto dry land quite a long time before vertebrates did.  This is a nice illustration of that.  Pity I don’t teach anymore B-(

See on jvi.asm.org

Evidence for Antigenic Seniority in Influenza A (H3N2) Antibody Responses in Southern China

20 July, 2012

See on Scoop.itVirology and Bioinformatics from Virology.ca

“A key observation about the human immune response to repeated exposure to influenza A is that the first strain infecting an individual apparently produces the strongest adaptive immune response. Although antibody titers measure that response, the interpretation of titers to multiple strains – from the same sera – in terms of infection history is clouded by age effects, cross reactivity and immune waning. From July to September 2009, we collected serum samples from 151 residents of Guangdong Province, China, 7 to 81 years of age. Neutralization tests were performed against strains representing six antigenic clusters of H3N2 influenza circulating between 1968 and 2008, and three recent locally circulating strains. Patterns of neutralization titers were compared based on age at time of testing and age at time of the first isolation of each virus. Neutralization titers were highest for H3N2 strains that circulated in an individual’s first decade of life (peaking at 7 years). Further, across strains and ages at testing, statistical models strongly supported a pattern of titers declining smoothly with age at the time a strain was first isolated. Those born 10 or more years after a strain emerged generally had undetectable neutralization titers to that strain (<1:10). Among those over 60 at time of testing, titers tended to increase with age. The observed pattern in H3N2 neutralization titers can be characterized as one of antigenic seniority: repeated exposure and the immune response combine to produce antibody titers that are higher to more ‘senior’ strains encountered earlier in life.”

 

An interesting paper, which helps explain several observations made over the years with pandemic flu: for example, in the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, older people seemed to be more protected – and rhe same was probably true of the 1918 pandemic.

See on www.plospathogens.org

A feeling for the Molechism* – revisited

10 July, 2012

This is an update of a post I did on Alan Cann’s MicrobiologyBytes back in 2007, before i started ViroBlogy: I am doing this because (a) it’s mine, (b) I want to update it – and the MB version is archived, so I can’t.  So here we are again:

I think it’s permissible, after working on your favourite virus for over 20 years, to develop some sort of feeling for it: you know, the kind of insight that isn’t directly backed up by experiment, but that may very well be right. Or not – but in either case, it would take a deal of time and a fair bit of cash to prove or disprove, and would have sparked some useful discussion in the meantime. And then, of course, the insights you have into (insert favourite virus name here) – if correct – can usually be extended into the more general case, and if you are sufficiently distinguished, people may actually take them on board, and you will have contributed to Accepted Wisdom.

I can’t pretend – at least, outside of my office – to any such Barbara McClintock-like distinction; however, I have done a fair bit of musing on my little sphere of interest as it relates (or not) to the State of the Viral Universe, and I will share some of these rambles now with whomever is interested.

I have been in the same office now, and teaching the same course, more or less, for 32-odd years. In that time I have worked on the serology and epidemiology of the bromoviruses, cucumovirus detection, potyvirus phylogeny, geminivirus diversity and molecular biology, HIV and papillomavirus genetic diversity, and expressing various bits of viruses and other proteins in plants and in insect cells. However, much of my interest (if not my effort) in that time has been directed towards understanding how grass-infecting mastreviruses in particular interact with their environment and with each other, in the course of their natural transmission cycle.

Maize streak virus

Maxwell’s Demon (left, lower) and Martian Face (right, upper) visible on a MSV virion

Fascinating little things, mastreviruses: unique geminate capsid architecture, and at around a maximum of 2.8 kb of single-strand circular DNA, we thought they were the smallest DNA genomes known until the circoviruses and then the zoo of anello- and anello-like viruses were discovered. Their genomes code for only 4 proteins – two replication-associated, one movement and one capsid – yet we have managed to work on just one subgroup of mastrevirus species for 27 years, without exhausting its interest – at least, to us… (see PubMed list here). We also showed that one could see Martian faces quite distinctly on virions – and possibly even Maxwell’s Demon. But I digress….

Maize streak

Severe symptoms of MSV on sweetcorn

We have concentrated on the “African streak viruses” – related species Maize streak virus, Panicum streak virus, Digitaria streak virus, Sugarcane streak virus and friends – for two very simple reasons:
1. They occur in Africa, near us, and nowhere else;
2. Maize streak virus is the worst viral pathogen affecting maize in Africa.

So we get situational or niche advantage, and we get to work on an economically-important pathogen. One that was described – albeit as “…not of…contagious nature” – as early as 1901, no less.

Maize streak virus

Maize streak virus or MSV, like its relatives, is obligately transmitted by a leafhopper (generally Cicadulina mbila Naudé): this means we have a three-party interaction – of virus-host-vector – to consider when trying to understand the dynamics of its transmission. Actually, it’s more complicated than that: we have also increasingly to consider the human angle, given that the virus disease affects mainly the subsistence farming community in Africa, and that human activity has a large influence on the spread of the disease. So while considering just the virus – as complicated as that is – we have to remember that it is only part of the whole picture.

So how complicated is the virus? At first sight, not very: all isolates made from severe maize infections share around 97% of their genome sequence. However, however…that 3% of sequence variation hides a multitude of biological differences, and there is a range of relatives infecting grasses of all kinds, some of which differ by up to 35% in genome sequence. Moreover, maize is a crop plant first introduced to Africa a maximum of 500 years ago, so it is hardly a “natural” host – yet, all over Africa, it is infected by only a very narrow range of virus genotypes, from a background of very wide sequence diversity available.

So here’s an insight:

the host selects the virus that replicates best in it.

And lo, we found that in the Vaalharts irrigation area in the north of South Africa that the dominant virus genotype in winter wheat was a different strain – >10% sequence difference – to the one in the same field, in summer maize. Different grass species also have quite different strains or even species of streak viruses best adapted to them.

DendrogramNot all that profound a set of observations, perhaps, but they lead on to another insight:

streak viruses travel around as a cloud of variants or virus complex.

Not intuitively obvious, perhaps…but testable, and when we did, we found we were right: cloning virus genomes back out of maize or from a grass infected via leafhoppers gave a single predominant genotype in each case, with a number of other variants present as well. Looking further, we discovered that even quite different viruses could in fact trans-replicate each other: that is, the Rep/RepA complex of one virus could facilitate the replication of the genome of a virus differing by up to 35% in DNA sequence. We have also – we think – made nonsense of the old fancy that you could observe “host adaptation” of field isolates of MSV: we believe this was due to repeated selection by a single host genotype from the “cloud” of viruses transmitted during the natural infection cycle.

So, insight number three:

there is a survival benefit for the viruses in this strategy.

This is simple to understand, really, and relates to leafhopper biology as well as to host: the insects move around a lot, chasing juicy grasses, and it would be an obvious advantage to the streak virus complex to be able to replicate as a complex in each different host type – given that different virus genotypes have differential replication potential in the various backgrounds. This is quite significantly different, incidentally, to what happens with the very distantly-related (in terms of geological time) begomoviruses, or whitefly-transmitted geminiviruses: these typically do not trans-replicate each other across a gap of more than 10% of sequence difference.

Boring, I hear you say, but wait…. Add another factoid in, and profound insights start to emerge. In recent years, the cloud of protégés or virologist complex around me has accumulated to critical mass, and one of the most important things to emerge – apart from some frighteningly effective software for assessing recombination in viral genomes, which I wish he’d charge for – was Darren Martin’s finding that genome recombination is rife among African streak viruses. This was unexpected, given the expectation that DNA viruses simply don’t do that sort of thing; that promiscuous reassortment of components between genomes is a hallmark of RNA viruses. Makes sense in retrospect (an exact science), however, because of the constraints on DNA genomes: how else to explore sequence space, if the proof-reading is too good? And if you travel in a complex anyway…why not swap bits for biological advantage?

MSV web

Linkage map of the MSV genome, showing what interacts with what

So Darren swapped a whole lot of bits, in a tour-de-force of molecular virology, to create some 54 infectious chimaeric MSV genomes – and determined that

The pathogenicity of chimeras was strongly influenced by the relatedness of their parental viruses and evidence was found of nucleotide sequence-dependent interactions between both coding and intergenic regions“.

In other words –new insight:

the whole genome is a pathogenicity determinant, and bits of it interact with other bits in unexpected ways.

At this point you could say “Hey, all his insights are in fact hypotheses!” – and you would be partially correct, except for

Profound Insight No. 1hypotheses are the refuge of the linear-thinking.

Or its variant, found on my office wall:

“**c* the hypotheses, let’s just discover something”. I also have

“If at first you don’t succeed, destroy all evidence that you tried” and a number of exotic beer bottle labels on my wall – but I digress….

As an aside here, I am quite serious in disliking hypothesis-driven science: I think it is a irredeemably reductionist approach, which does not easily allow for Big Picture overviews, and which closes out many promising avenues of investigation or even of thought. And I teach people how to formulate them so they can get grants and publications in later life, but I still think HDS is a tyranny that should be actively subverted wherever possible.

Be all this as it may, now follows

Profound Insight No. 2genome components may still be individually mobile even when covalently linked.

Now take a moment to think on this: recombination allows genes to swap around inside genetic backgrounds so as to constitute novel entities – and the “evolutionary value of exchanging a genome fragment is constrained by the number of ways in which the fragment interacts with the rest of the genome*“. Whether or not the genome is RNA, DNA, in one piece or divided. All of a sudden, the concept of a “virus genome” as a gene pool rather than a unitary thing becomes obvious – and so does the reductionism inherent in saying “this single DNA/RNA sequence is a virus”.

So try this on for size for a brand-new working definition of a virus – and

Profound Insight No. 3a virus is an infectious acellular entity composed of compatible genomic components derived from a pool of genetic elements.

Sufficiently paradigm-shifting for you? Compare it to more classical definitions – yes, including one by AJ Cann, Esq. – and see how much simpler it is. It also opens up the possibility that ANY virus as currently recognised is simply an operational assembly of components, and not necessarily the final article at all.

Again, my favourite organisms supply good object examples: the begomoviruses – whitefly-transmitted geminiviruses -

  • may have one- or two-component genomes;
  • some of the singleton A-type components may pick up a B-type in certain circumstances;
  • some doubletons may lose their B without apparent effect in model hosts;
  • some A components may apparently share B components in natural infections;
  • the A and B components recombine like rabbits with cognate molecules (or Bs can pick up the intergenic region from As);
  • in many cases have one or more satellite ssDNAs (β DNA, or nanovirus-related components) associated with disease causation;

…and so on, and on…. An important thing to note here is the lab-rat viruses – those isolated early on, and kept in model plant species in greenhouses – often don’t exhibit any of these strangenesses, whereas field-isolated viruses often do.

Which tells you quite a lot about model systems, doesn’t it?

But this is not only true of plant viruses: the zoo of ssDNA anello-like viruses found in humans and in animals – with several very distantly-related viruses to be found in any individual, and up to 80% of humans infected – just keeps on getting bigger and weirder. Added to the original TT virus – named originally for the initials of the Japanese patient from whom it was isolated, and in a post hoc exercise of convoluted logic, named Torque teno virus (TTV) [why don't people who work with human or animal viruses obey ICTV rules??] – are now Torque teno minivirus (TTMV) and “small anellovirus” SAV) – all of which have generic status. And all of which may be the same thing – as in, TTVs at a genome size of 3.6–3.8 kb may give rise to TTMVs (2.8-29 kb) and SAVs (2.4-2.6 kb) as deletion mutants as part of a population cloud, where the smaller variants are trans-replicated by the larger. Thus, a whole lot of what are being described as viruses – without fulfilling Koch’s Postulates, I might point out – are probably only “hopeful monsters” existing only as part of a population. Funnily enough, this sort of thing is much better explored in the ssDNA plant virus community, given that working with plant hosts is so much easier than with human or animal.

And now we can go really wide, and attempt to be profound on a global scale: it should not have escaped your notice that the greatest degree of diversity among organisms on this planet is that of viruses, and viruses that are found in seawater in particular. There is a truly mind-boggling number of different viruses in just one ml of seawater taken from anywhere on Earth, which leads respectable authors such as Curtis Suttle to speculate that viruses almost certainly have a significant influence on not only populations of all other marine organisms, but even on the carbon balance of the world’s oceans – and therefore of the planet itself.

Which leads to the final, and most obvious,

Profound Insight (No. 4)in order to understand viruses, we should all be working on seawater…. 

That is where the diversity is, after all; that is where the gene pool that gave rise to all viruses came from originally – and who knows what else is being

Hypolith – cyanobacteria-derived, probably – under a piece of Namib quartzite from near Gobabeb Research Station

cooked up down there?

And this is the major update: not only have I managed to get funded for a project on “Marine Viromics” from our local National Research Foundation - a process akin to winning the lottery, and about as likely to succeed - I am also collaborating with friends and colleagues from the Institute for Microbial Biotechnology and Metagenomics at the University of the Western Cape on viruses in desert soils, and associated with hypoliths- or algal growths found under quartzite rocks in extreme environments.

Thus, I shall soon be frantically learning how to deal with colossal amounts of sequence data, and worse, learning how to make sense of it.  We should have fun!

——————————————————————————————————————–

* And as a final curiosity, I find that while I – in common with the World Book Encyclop[a]edia and Learning Resources – take:mol|e|chism or mol|e|cism «MOL uh KIHZ uhm», noun. to mean any virus, viewed as an infective agent possessing the characteristics of both a living microorganism and a nonliving molecule; organule.
[molechism < mole(cule) + ch(emical) + (organ)ism; molecism < molec(ule) + (organ)ism] –
There is another meaning… something to do with sacrifice of children and burning in hellfire eternally. This is just to reassure you that this is not that.

Polydnaviruses as Symbionts and Gene Delivery Systems

10 July, 2012

See on Scoop.itVirology News

“Textbooks define viruses as infectious agents with nucleic acid genomes (RNA or DNA), which replicate inside living host cells to produce particles (virions) that can transfer the genome to other cells [1], [2]. The Polydnaviridae was recognized as a family of viruses in 1995, and is currently divided into two genera named the Bracovirus and Ichnovirus [3]. Polydnavirus (PDV) virions consist of enveloped nucleocapsids and package multiple circular, double-stranded (ds) DNAs with aggregate sizes that range from 190 to more than 500 kbp [4]. PDVs are also strictly associated with insects called parasitoid wasps (Hymenoptera), which are free living nectar feeders as adults but which develop during their immature stages by feeding inside the body of another insect (the host) [3], [4]. Recent studies, however, indicate that PDVs differ from all other known viruses in ways that challenge traditional views of what viruses are and how they function.”

 

Great review on a group of viruses that has fascinated me since I first heard of them – mainly because there seemed to be no end to the discovery of new bits of genome, and no-one could ever seem to clone a whole one.  

 

I especially like this quote:

“The novelty is that BVs today are obligate beneficial symbionts, which persist entirely from a proviral genome yet produce virions that efficiently deliver genes to other organisms wasps depend upon for survival. Are PDVs still viruses? If we can accept that viruses are not always obligate intracellular parasites, we would suggest the answer is yes.”

See on www.plospathogens.org

Endogenous RNA viruses of plants in insect genomes

5 June, 2012

See on Scoop.itVirology News

“Endogenous viral elements (EVEs) derived from RNA viruses with no DNA stage are rare, especially those where the parental viruses possess single-strand positive-sense (ssRNA +) genomes. Here we provide evidence that EVEs that share a sequence similarity to ssRNA + viruses of plants are integrated into the genomes of a number of insects, including mosquito, fruit flies, bees, ant, silkworm, pea aphid, Monarch butterfly, and wasps. A preliminary phylogenetic analysis places these EVEs as divergent relatives of the Virgaviridae and three currently unclassified plant viral species.”

I have covered this before, in ViroBlogy, (and here, in 2007)as an interesting and probably under-appreciated phenomenon.  I note Eddie Holmes and colleagues have now taken it much, much further – which incidentally lends significant credence to my supposition that virus/vector/plant coevolution was probably a fair bit more intimate than has been supposed, with the newly-emerged (in evolutionary terms) insects and their viruses meeting terrestrial plants and THEIR viruses.  And mixing everything up, as I have speculated elsewhere (Origins of Viruses).

I thank Jean-Marie Verchot for drawing my attention to this!

See on www.sciencedirect.com

Trends in Intussusception Hospitalizations Among US Infants Before and After Implementation of the Rotavirus Vaccination Program, 2000–2009

27 May, 2012

See on Scoop.itVirology News

“A small increase in intussusception rates was seen among infants aged 8–11 weeks, to whom most first doses of rotavirus vaccine were given, but no sustained population-level change in overall intussusception hospitalizations rates in US infants was observed after implementation of the US rotavirus vaccination program. Although an association between intussusception and rotavirus vaccination cannot be established by this ecologic analysis alone, even if the low risk with the first dose exists, it is outweighed by the well-documented benefits of vaccination of US infants”

This is a big deal- a very important, big deal: human rotavirus kills more than 500 000 people a year (mainly very little), and rotavirus vaccines have been bedevilled with the suspicion that they cause telescoping of the intestine, or intussusception.  Which can be fatal, and is not something you want happening to your healthy baby.

However, and however: I have taught my students for years to be aware of relative risks when talking about vaccines, and there is absolutely no doubt that even the Wyeth vaccine could have been considered “safe” in a developing country environment, where the threat of death due to diarrhoea and dehyderation caused by rotavirus, would have been far greater than any threat from the vaccine.

I thank Rusdsell Kightley Media for the rotavirus graphic

See on jid.oxfordjournals.org

Goodbye, Mimi – we got Mega!

11 October, 2011

Through the unlikely medium of a local online version of a local daily paper, comes the following:

“A virus found in the sea off Chile is the biggest in the world, harbouring more than 1,000 genes, surprised scientists reported on Monday. The genome of Megavirus chilensis is 6.5 percent bigger than the DNA code of the previous virus record-holder, Mimivirus, isolated in 2003. “

The relevant article is from the group led by Jean-Michel Claverie, of the Institut de Microbiologie de la Méditerranée, in Marseilles, and appears in the October 10th online issue of PNAS.

From the abstract:

An electron micrograph of Megavirus: thanks to Jean-Michel Claverie

Here, we present Megavirus chilensis, a giant virus isolated off the coast of Chile, but capable of replicating in fresh water acanthamoeba. Its 1,259,197-bp genome is the largest viral genome fully sequenced so far. It encodes 1,120 putative proteins, of which 258 (23%) have no Mimivirus homologs. The 594 Megavirus/Mimivirus orthologs share an average of 50% of identical residues. Despite this divergence, Megavirus retained all of the

genomic features characteristic of Mimivirus, including its cellular-like genes. Moreover, Megavirus exhibits three additional aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase genes (IleRS, TrpRS, and AsnRS) adding strong support to the previous suggestion that the Mimivirus/Megavirus lineage evolved from an ancestral cellular genome by reductive evolution. The main differences in gene content between Mimivirus and Megavirus genomes are due to (i) lineages specific gains or losses of genes, (ii) lineage specific gene family expansion or deletion, and (iii) the insertion/migration of mobile elements (intron, intein).

I could argue with the choice of name as it does not conform to ICTV rules, as far as I can see – but then, neither did Mimivirus.  The important fact about the discovery – apart from the fact that it is a discovery, and therefore not amenable to hypothesising, which I rather like – is that it shows how very diverse these viruses are, and how long they must have been evolving.  For example, despite their morphological similarity, Mimi- and Megavirus genomes do not share nearly 25% of their ORFs – and sequence identities of  predicted homologous proteins are as low as 50%.

I have blogged earlier on Mimivirus structure and evolution – see “Mimivirus unveiled” – and it is nice to see that an important speculation from those earlier papers appears to be borne out here.  Namely, and quite important when considering both viral and cellular origins, is further evidence that very large viral genomes do not seem to have evolved by extensive horizontal gene transfer from cells, and in fact, the reverse may be true.  The authors state in their conclusion, in discussion of opposing views of the origin of these viruses:

“The potential origin of giant mimivirus-like genomes has been hotly debated, basically opposing two views. One is depicting Mimivirus as an extremely efficient gene “pickpocket,” explain- ing its large genome as the result of considerable HGTs from its host, bacteria, or other viruses. This scenario has been criticized in detail elsewhere [see paper for refs]. The opposite view claims that the level of HGT remained marginal (10%) and that most of the Mimivirus genes originated from an even more complex viral ancestor, itself eventually derived from an ancestral cellular genome.”

I have fond memories of an essay I won a school prize with, in about 1970, entitled “The Sea, and All that Therein Is”.  I should update it to “The Sea, and All the Viruses that Therein Are”…B-)

Virus Origins II

28 September, 2011

I have updated the blog on virus origins quite considerably – new pictures, more detail, more speculation!

Pathways on information flow for RNA viruses

HIV Vaccines From Bangkok – 4, and final….

22 September, 2011

Thursday morning started with three parallel oral sessions – and I chose Symposium 07, Characterization of Breakthrough Viruses.  The second talk – by Morgane Rolland, in the US Military HIV Research Program – detailed a study of the sieve analysis of breakthrough viruses in the RV144 Thai trial.  They wished to see whether or not the vaccine could block infection of specific variants, and thought they might see that viruses in vaccinees were evolutionarily distant from the insert in the vaccine, relative to the placebo arm.

HIV and its life cycle

The saw no differences in virus diversity over 10 sequences per person, in 121 people,  71 of whom were in the placebo arm.  They did note, however, that linked transmissions showed less diversity in the env gene than normal – 1 vs 10%.  Over 75% of cases had a single founder virus, in both placebo and vaccine arms.  There was no significant divergence from the vaccine sequence in either group in anything but the Pro aa sequence – with some non-significant evidence for Env variation.

When they looked for Env sites under selection in gp120, they saw 4 in the placebo group at positions 181, 208, 327 and 359 – with less variation in vaccine than placebo recipients.  Rolland speculated that this could be to do with entry being more restrictive in vaccinees?  4 different sites in the vaccine group were under selection: they found that for MHC I epitopes there was a greater distance for vaccine than placebo groups, with a result that was not significant for MHC II epitopes.

There was a trend toward longer Env V2 loop sequences in vaccinees at later times, and a reduced number of cysteines in Env among vaccinees – this was seen also in the VAX004 trial.

Phil Berman – formerly of VaxGen, which made the gp120 for RV144 and earlier trials – mentioned that there was lower variance in Env than in the unsuccessful VAX 003 trial.  Jerome Kim noted that men seroconverting had a much higher incidence of HCV infection – which could be associated with undeclared IV drug use.

Katharine Barr of Univ Alabama spoke next, on the increased incidence of multiple variant transmission of HIV in VAX003 injection drug users.  She noted that this efficacy trial was of gp120 in IV drug users, while VAX004  was in MSM and high-risk women: they speculated that differences if any could be due to transmission route – as in, IV route vs sexual.  She further noted that in RV144, the best (non-significant) effect was in low-risk heterosexuals.

Something that was a little disturbing to me, given HIV transmission in our part of the world is overwhelmingly by heterosexual sex, was that the IV route is responsible for 10% of world infections.  They had looked at transmitted founder viruses – the ones going in and replicating in recipients.  They predicted that consensus of a low diversity lineage is the sequence of the founder virus – and that several founders would give multiple low variance lineages.

She noted that 80% of heterosexual infections are established by single viruses, so there exists a window of opportunity of viral vulnerability when vaccine-induced immunity could block infection.  However, with MSM, the multiple infection goes up to 40%; while injection drug users (IDUs) are less studied, multiplicity goes up  60% in one study and 31% in another….

Looking at Vax003 results, they had asked how high a barrier there had been for placebo infections, and whether in vaccinees there were more or fewer founder viruses?  While they had found that there was an 44% incidence of multiple variant transmission in the  placebo arm, and  22% in the vaccinees, this was unfortunately not significant, given the low numbers.  There was a median of 1.8 viruses per transmission vs 1.3, but this too was not significant.  However, it could mean there is a higher bar for vaccine protection among IDUs, which has important implications for which groups to use in vaccine trials.

Katherine incidentally gave the best answer yet heard to a long and detailed question: “I think that’s a really good question but I have zero data to address it…” = I don’t know.

Which prompted thoughts of new conference drinking games: take a shot every time you hear a speaker say “I would like to thank the organisers for inviting me…”, or “Our hypothesis [generally pronounced hy-PAH-the-sis] was…”, or a question which starts with either “…really good talk / great data” or “So – ummmm – when you/we did…”.

Paul Edlefsen (Fred Hutchinson Cancer Res Ctr) described a sieve analysis of RV144 [and started: “So...umm...” = another shot!].  He repeated the finding that observed correlates of risk generated two hypotheses; namely, that high IgG response to Env protected from HIV infection while a high IgA response interfered with protection.  Additionally, analysis of the antibody response using scaffold V region showed that a high V2 response correlated with a lower infection rate.  He noted that the STEP trial results showed a distinct difference in Gag between vaccine and placebo groups.  He noted further that were only 110 usable subjects in RV144, so they could only detect large sieve effects in their study of CTL and Ab epitope responses.

MUCH MIND-NUMBINGLY BORING STATISTICAL METHODOLOGY FOLLOWED…sorry, Paul!

There were 2 sites of evidence for sieving – aa positions 169 and 181 in the Env V2 loop, in the middle of a region identified by Ab binding array data.  There was also some evidence of covariation among pairs of aa residues in the V2 loop for vaccinees only.

After a long and complicated structural question, he gave the second-best answer of the conference: “I could say that I do, or that I don’t – but I have so little expertise in this area…(laughter)”.  And after long rambling statement: – “I’m sorry, was there a question in there?”

Brandon Keele (National Cancer Inst, MD) described work on NHPs which they had extended to studying human transmission of HIV, on transmitted/founder viruses.  NHP studies show multiple founders because doses are high generally, in order to get 100% infection rates.  One study using very low dose multiple intrarectal exposures to see if one can immunise macaques showed that one virus could do it.  Animals followed up from early times stayed with one evolving variant.

He noted that the consensus sequences in humans posited to have had one transmitted variant are average in  neutralisation susceptibility.  These viruses are all functional in vitro and in vivo and one can get full length viral clones ex NHPs which recap original founder viral load and pathogenicity.  All such viruses use the CCR5 coreceptor.  All HIV clones replicate in CD4 T-cells but not in  macrophages.  The transmission signature is to increase Env processing and infectivity.

They now mix cloned viruses with tags so can follow them in NHP challenge experiments, as most challenge studies have used virus with <1% diversity, which represents a clone in any one epitope – which he felt to be non-reflective of the real world .

The closing plenary session was opened by IAVI‘s Wayne Koff, who remarked that he had heard someone say “The  airport….”, in answer to the session name “Where do we go next?”….

Jeffrey Boyington (Vaccine Res Ctr) described some very impressive work on using structure of Env for rational immunogen design, specifically to target the CD4 binding site as a good target for broadly neutralising Ab.  They used crytallographic data to make proteins best mimicking the struc and then used them as immunogens.  They had used stabilised resurfaced gp120 with mutations around the binding site and isolated dozens of Abs with them from several infected subjects.  Part of the process involved stabilising flexible regions by bolstering cysteine content, removing glycans from the site of interest and adding them to immunodominant sites, and using Chikungunya virus VLPs to multimerise spike proteins for maximal immunogenicity.  Boyington noted that there were 80 native trimers on the surface of the VLPs, and that one can put the Outer Domain of gp120 on the tip of each monomer.  They get good Ab back for gp120 and get CD4 binding site Ab in rabbits.  In rhesus monkeys primed with gp140 trimers they got good boosting and better Abs to the CD4 BS.

Altogether a very impressive account – and one which advances to possibility of other opportunities for the design of other good broad-binding vaccine epitopes.

Rick King of IAVI followed, with an account of the current status and future directions of vector-based HIV vaccines.  He stated that most HIV vaccines now involve vectors – so there is a wealth of data that can be efficacious, so how to use it?  He thinks that we want the next generation of vectored vaccines to block infection and control virus load – meaning a combination of Ab and cellular responses.He noted that in NHPs, SIV protection is possible, and that it requires Env in the vaccine – and that the mechanism of protection is under intense investigation right now.

He further noted that in a DNA prime MVA boost vaccine regime, protection is associated with the avidity of the Abs.  Thus, a major goal is to improve the response to Env, by identifying the nature of the protective response, and enhancing and using native Envs to do it.  He stated in this context that there were only two vaccine regimens using native spike protein – and that one of them is the SA AIDS Vaccine Initiative (SAAVI) vaccine.

It was possible to engineer Env to bind a broader array of broadly neutralising Ab and to incorporate it into vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) instead of the native G protein spike, or into canine distemper virus (CDV, a measles relative), which replicates in lymphoid tissue.  One could also bias processing of Env in CDV to get better cleavage and presentation.  The rCDV could be put into ferrets and shown to replicate.

He said that while the RV144 vaccine did not control viral load, vaccines can control SIV replication, so we need to have those components in HIV vaccines.  For instance, recombinant live cytomegalovirus (CMV) expressing the whole proteome of SIV could control the virus, this was associated with CD8 effector memory T-cells.

He thought we need to capitalise on information on mechanisms of control, and to increase immunity by use of replicating vectors and heterologous prime/boost combos, and deal with diversity by broadening the response.  The reason for replicating vectors was because live attenuated virus works for SIV – preventing infection and controlling replication.  Possibilities were vaccinia, measles, VSV, Sendai, CMV, AdV, CDV and VSV-HIV chimaeras.  As for diversity, one could increase the number of epitopes by using mosaics, and direct responses using conserved epitopes, as Tomas Hanke has demonstrated in IAVI-funded trials using chimpanzee Ad as prime then MVA as a boost with his HIVCONS Ag.

Finally, there was what I consider to have been the best talk of the conference – simply because it was much wider in scope than the rest: Steven Reed of the Infectious Disease Res Inst, Seattle, described new generation adjuvants for use with HIV.  He started by noting that adjuvants were necessary for lots of things; eg: for T-cell vaccines for TB and leishmania; for Ab response-broadening (Cervarix, HPV vaccine); Ag dose sparing (eg flu); to combat immune sensescence, and for vaccine therapy.

They had focused on a toll-like receptor (TLR4) agonist as an adjuvant, following work that showed that the well-known MPL was a TLR4 agonist ,and vaccines including TLR agonists had been used unknowingly since 1885.

He thinks the ideal adjuvant should have no effect on lymphocytes, no systemic effects, no non-specific B or T cell responses, should elicit potent long-lived responses, should redirect ongoing immune responses, and should be safe and effective in all age groups.  They had accordingly designed GLA – based on lipid A – to bind TLR4: this was purely synthetic, and induces Th1 CD4 helper cells and a broad humoral immunity.  They used a hexaacyl chain length that was preferred by human TLR4, which is restricted to macrophages and dendritic cells, has transient local effects, and reduces inflammation so as to get better central memory.

They can also formulate it differently for different vaccines and can get very different effects thereby.  For example, emulsion alone stimulates Th2 responses while GLA stimulates Th1 even in combo with an emulsion, which helps in leishmania and TB vaccines.

He noted that alum-based adjuvant stimulated mainly a Th2 response, while adding GLA gives a Th1 response with the same antigen.  They get good Ab diversity with GLA and expansion of it with the malaria vaccine – and Ab diversity leads to better neutralisation (eg transl med 2011).

GLA increases and broadens the haemagglutination-inhibtion (HAI) Ab response to the influenza vaccine Fluzone, which contains lots of inactivated virions.  He noted one gets a better protective response against “drifted” viruses – which have evolved away from the vaccine strains – with GLA.  Baculovirus-made H5N1 vaccine requires 30x less vaccine to get the same response with GLA.

It is also possible to get mucosal immunity by IM vaccination with HIV gp140, according to Robin Shattock’s results.

Reed noted that intradermal adjuvants are very rare – and that this looks good with flu vaccines delivered this way.  They were in the process of optimising the adjuvant formulation for intradermal delivery to increase vaccine potency, get mucosal immunity, and CD8+ T-cell responses.  Dermal dendritic cells have a wider range of TLRs than Langerhans cells – so Sanofi target them with ID delivery, and GLA works well to amplify the response.  It was impressive that they could protect ferrets with a single ID vaccine shot of flu vaccine.  It was also interesting that they are working with Medicago Inc., who have one of the most successful plant-produced influenza virus vaccine candidates, presently in human trial.

Thereafter, closing remarks from the conference organiser were as one would expect; people were honoured for their present and long-term contributions – notably Jose Esparza – and the venue of the next conference was announced to be Boston, with Dan Barouch as Organising Chair.

It was a good conference, with all of the high-intensity interactions and presentations one would expect from such a loaded topic.  However, it possibly suffered from over-emphasis of the “RV144 results” – which weren’t that impressive, in my opinion – as part of an effort to keep up perceived momentum from announcement of the RV144 success (small as it was) from the previous meeting.  For me, the highlights were the envelope antigen design talks, and what I managed to catch of the actual virology, and especially analysis of diversity by massively parallel sequencing.

We still don’t have an effective HIV vaccine – but we’re getting closer. 


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