Genetic adaptations to SIV across chimpanzee populations

Harvinder Pawar, Harrison J Ostridge, Joshua M Schmidt, Aida M Andrés

Research output: Working paper/PreprintPreprint

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Central and eastern chimpanzees are infected with Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV) in the wild, typically without developing acute immunodeficiency. Yet the recent zoonotic transmission of chimpanzee SIV to humans, which were naive to the virus, gave rise to the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), which causes AIDS and is responsible for one of the deadliest pandemics in human history. Chimpanzees have been infected with SIV for tens of thousands of years and have likely evolved to reduce its pathogenicity, becoming semi-natural hosts that largely tolerate the virus. In support of this view, central and eastern chimpanzees show evidence of positive selection in genes involved in SIV/HIV cell entry and immune response to SIV, respectively. We hypothesise that the first critical adaptations aimed at controlling the lethal potential of zoonotic SIV happened in the ancestors of central-eastern chimpanzees, the chimpanzee population that was first infected with the virus. Under that scenario, studying this population would allow us to identify those first critical host adaptations. Here, we use population genomics with that aim. In support of our hypothesis, the genes with signatures of positive selection in the ancestral population are significantly enriched in SIV-related genes, especially those involved in the immune response to SIV and those encoding for host genes that physically interact with SIV/HIV (VIPs). Interestingly, integrating these genes with candidates of positive selection in the two infected subspecies reveals novel signals of adaptation to SIV/HIV. Specifically, we observe evidence of positive selection in numerous steps of the biological pathway responsible for T-helper cell differentiation, including CD4 and multiple genes that SIV/HIV use to infect and control host cells. This pathway is active only in CD4+ cells which SIV/HIV infects, and it plays a crucial role in shaping the immune response so it can efficiently control the virus. Our results confirm the importance of SIV as a selective factor, identify specific genetic changes that may have allowed our closest living relatives to reduce SIV's pathogenicity, and demonstrate the potential of population genomics to reveal the evolutionary mechanisms used by naive hosts to reduce the pathogenicity of zoonotic pathogens.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherbioRxiv, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Number of pages34
Publication statusSubmitted - 25 May 2022


  • Simian Immunodeficiency Virus
  • host-pathogen coevolution
  • natural immunity
  • adaptation


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