MxA is an interferon-induced dynamin-like GTPase with wide-ranging antiviral activity, which hinges upon detection of unique viral structures that differ across virus families. Despite elucidation of its structure, the basis of MxA antiviral specificity remains enigmatic. We used an evolution-guided approach to identify the loop L4 of MxA as a hotspot for recurrent positive selection in primates. Further, we show that single amino acid changes in L4 are necessary and sufficient to explain dramatic differences in species-specific antiviral activity of primate MxA proteins against the orthomyxoviruses Thogoto virus and influenza A virus. Taken together, our findings identify a genetic determinant of MxA target recognition and suggest a model by which MxA achieves antiviral breadth without compromising viral specificity.
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