Dating the age of the SIV lineages that gave rise to HIV-1 and HIV-2

PLoS Comput Biol. 2009 May;5(5):e1000377. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000377. Epub 2009 May 1.


Great strides have been made in understanding the evolutionary history of simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) and the zoonoses that gave rise to HIV-1 and HIV-2. What remains unknown is how long these SIVs had been circulating in non-human primates before the transmissions to humans. Here, we use relaxed molecular clock dating techniques to estimate the time of most recent common ancestor for the SIVs infecting chimpanzees and sooty mangabeys, the reservoirs of HIV-1 and HIV-2, respectively. The date of the most recent common ancestor of SIV in chimpanzees is estimated to be 1492 (1266-1685), and the date in sooty mangabeys is estimated to be 1809 (1729-1875). Notably, we demonstrate that SIV sequences sampled from sooty mangabeys possess sufficient clock-like signal to calibrate a molecular clock; despite the differences in host biology and viral dynamics, the rate of evolution of SIV in sooty mangabeys is indistinguishable from that of its human counterpart, HIV-2. We also estimate the ages of the HIV-2 human-to-human transmissible lineages and provide the first age estimate for HIV-1 group N at 1963 (1948-1977). Comparisons between the SIV most recent common ancestor dates and those of the HIV lineages suggest a difference on the order of only hundreds of years. Our results suggest either that SIV is a surprisingly young lentiviral lineage or that SIV and, perhaps, HIV dating estimates are seriously compromised by unaccounted-for biases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cercocebus atys / virology
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genes, env
  • Genes, gag
  • Genes, pol
  • HIV Infections / virology
  • HIV-1 / genetics*
  • HIV-2 / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Models, Genetic
  • Pan troglodytes / virology
  • Phylogeny
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Simian Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / virology
  • Simian Immunodeficiency Virus / genetics*
  • Time