RNA viruses, such as hepatitis C virus (HCV), influenza virus, and SARS-CoV-2, are notorious for their ability to evolve rapidly under selection in novel environments. It is known that the high mutation rate of RNA viruses can generate huge genetic diversity to facilitate viral adaptation. However, less attention has been paid to the underlying fitness landscape that represents the selection forces on viral genomes, especially under different selection conditions. Here, we systematically quantified the distribution of fitness effects of about 1,600 single amino acid substitutions in the drug-targeted region of NS5A protein of HCV. We found that the majority of nonsynonymous substitutions incur large fitness costs, suggesting that NS5A protein is highly optimized. The replication fitness of viruses is correlated with the pattern of sequence conservation in nature, and viral evolution is constrained by the need to maintain protein stability. We characterized the adaptive potential of HCV by subjecting the mutant viruses to selection by the antiviral drug daclatasvir at multiple concentrations. Both the relative fitness values and the number of beneficial mutations were found to increase with the increasing concentrations of daclatasvir. The changes in the spectrum of beneficial mutations in NS5A protein can be explained by a pharmacodynamics model describing viral fitness as a function of drug concentration. Overall, our results show that the distribution of fitness effects of mutations is modulated by both the constraints on the biophysical properties of proteins (i.e., selection pressure for protein stability) and the level of environmental stress (i.e., selection pressure for drug resistance).IMPORTANCE Many viruses adapt rapidly to novel selection pressures, such as antiviral drugs. Understanding how pathogens evolve under drug selection is critical for the success of antiviral therapy against human pathogens. By combining deep sequencing with selection experiments in cell culture, we have quantified the distribution of fitness effects of mutations in hepatitis C virus (HCV) NS5A protein. Our results indicate that the majority of single amino acid substitutions in NS5A protein incur large fitness costs. Simulation of protein stability suggests viral evolution is constrained by the need to maintain protein stability. By subjecting the mutant viruses to selection under an antiviral drug, we find that the adaptive potential of viral proteins in a novel environment is modulated by the level of environmental stress, which can be explained by a pharmacodynamics model. Our comprehensive characterization of the fitness landscapes of NS5A can potentially guide the design of effective strategies to limit viral evolution.
Keywords: DFE; HCV; deep mutational scanning; drug resistance; fitness landscape; viral evolution.
Copyright © 2021 Dai et al.