October 20, 2005

The origin of an HIV-Resistance Allele

Via John Hawks. This study is a good example of how non-uniform selection can change allele frequencies in a way that an allele may reach its highest frequency in a region different from the one where it originated. See also HIV Resistance mutation in the Bronze Age.

PLoS Biology Volume 3, Issue 11

The Geographic Spread of the CCR5 Δ32 HIV-Resistance Allele

John Novembre et al.

The Δ32 mutation at the CCR5 locus is a well-studied example of natural selection acting in humans. The mutation is found principally in Europe and western Asia, with higher frequencies generally in the north. Homozygous carriers of the Δ32 mutation are resistant to HIV-1 infection because the mutation prevents functional expression of the CCR5 chemokine receptor normally used by HIV-1 to enter CD4+ T cells. HIV has emerged only recently, but population genetic data strongly suggest Δ32 has been under intense selection for much of its evolutionary history. To understand how selection and dispersal have interacted during the history of the Δ32 allele, we implemented a spatially explicit model of the spread of Δ32. The model includes the effects of sampling, which we show can give rise to local peaks in observed allele frequencies. In addition, we show that with modest gradients in selection intensity, the origin of the Δ32 allele may be relatively far from the current areas of highest allele frequency. The geographic distribution of the Δ32 allele is consistent with previous reports of a strong selective advantage (>10%) for Δ32 carriers and of dispersal over relatively long distances (>100 km/generation). When selection is assumed to be uniform across Europe and western Asia, we find support for a northern European origin and long-range dispersal consistent with the Viking-mediated dispersal of Δ32 proposed by G. Lucotte and G. Mercier. However, when we allow for gradients in selection intensity, we estimate the origin to be outside of northern Europe and selection intensities to be strongest in the northwest. Our results describe the evolutionary history of the Δ32 allele and establish a general methodology for studying the geographic distribution of selected alleles.


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