by Hui-Ying Ko, Yao-Tsun Li, Day-Yu Chao, Yun-Cheng Chang, Zheng-Rong T. Li, Melody Wang, Chuan-Liang Kao, Tzai-Hung Wen, Pei-Yun Shu, Gwong-Jen J. Chang, Chwan-Chuen King
Purifying selection during dengue viral infection has been suggested as the driving force of viral evolution and the higher complexity of the intra-host quasi-species is thought to offer an adaptive advantage for arboviruses as they cycle between arthropod and vertebrate hosts. However, very few studies have been performed to investigate the viral genetic changes within (intra-host) and between (inter-host) humans in a spatio-temporal scale. Viruses of different serotypes from various countries imported to Taiwan cause annual outbreaks. During 2001–2003, two consecutive outbreaks were caused by dengue virus serotype 2 (DENV-2) and resulted in a larger-scale epidemic with more severe dengue cases in the following year. Phylogenetic analyses showed that the viruses from both events were similar and related to the 2001 DENV-2 isolate from the Philippines. We comprehensively analyzed viral sequences from representative dengue patients and identified three consensus genetic variants, group Ia, Ib and II, with different spatio-temporal population dynamics. The phylodynamic analysis suggested group Ib variants, characterized by lower genetic diversity, transmission rate, and intra-host variant numbers, might play the role of maintenance variants. The residential locations among the patients infected by group Ib variants were in the outer rim of case clusters throughout the 2001–2003 period whereas group Ia and II variants were located in the centers of case clusters, suggesting that group Ib viruses might serve as “sheltered overwintering” variants in an undefined ecological niche. Further deep sequencing of the viral envelope (E) gene directly from individual patient serum samples confirmed the emergence of variants belonging to three quasi-species (group Ia, Ib, and II) and the ancestral role of the viral variants in the latter phase of the 2001 outbreak contributed to the later, larger-scale epidemic beginning in 2002. These findings enhanced our understanding of increasing epidemic severity over time in the same epidemic area. It also highlights the importance of combining phylodynamic and deep sequencing analysis as surveillance tools for detecting dynamic changes in viral variants, particularly searching for and monitoring any specific viral subpopulation. Such subpopulations might have selection advantages in both fitness and transmissibility leading to increased epidemic severity.
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