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

J Virol. 2012 Mar;86(6):3050-63. doi: 10.1128/JVI.06857-11. Epub 2012 Jan 11.


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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genome, Viral*
  • Hepacivirus / chemistry
  • Hepacivirus / genetics
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Phylogeny
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Viruses / chemistry
  • Viruses / classification
  • Viruses / genetics*