Phylogenesys and homology modeling in Zika virus epidemic: food for thought

<p>Zika virus (ZIKV) is an emerging Flavivirus that have recently caused an outbreak in Brazil and rapid spread in several countries. In this study, the consequences of ZIKV evolution on protein recognition by the host immune system have been analyzed. Evolutionary analysis was combined with homology modeling and T-B cells epitope predictions. Two separate clades, the African one with the Uganda sequence, as the most probable ancestor, and the second one containing all the most recent sequences from the equatorial belt were identified. Brazilian strains clustered all together and closely related to the French Polynesia isolates. A strong presence of a negatively selected site in the envelope gene (<i>Env</i>) protein was evidenced, suggesting a probable purging of deleterious polymorphisms in functionally important genes. Our results show relative conservancy of ZIKV sequences when envelope and other non-structural proteins (NS3 and NS5) are analyzed by homology modeling. However, some regions within the consensus sequence of NS5 protein and to a lesser extent in the envelope protein, show localized high mutation frequency corresponding to a considerable alteration in protein stability. In terms of viral immune escape, envelope protein is under a higher selective pressure than NS5 and NS3 proteins for HLA class I and II molecules. Moreover, envelope mutations that are not strictly related to T-cell immune responses are mostly located on the surface of the protein in putative B-cell epitopes, suggesting an important contribution of B cells in the immune response as well.</p>