An atlas of adaptive evolution in endemic human viruses

Kistler KE, Bedford T. 2023. bioRxiv: 2023.05.19.541367.


Through antigenic evolution, viruses like seasonal influenza evade recognition by neutralizing antibodies elicited by previous infection or vaccination. This means that a person with antibodies well-tuned to an initial infection will not be protected against the same virus years later and that vaccine-mediated protection will decay. It is not fully understood which of the many endemic human viruses evolve in this fashion. To expand that knowledge, we assess adaptive evolution across the viral genome in 28 endemic viruses, spanning a wide range of viral families and transmission modes. We find that surface proteins consistently show the highest rates of adaptation, and estimate that ten viruses in this panel undergo antigenic evolution to selectively fix mutations that enable the virus to escape recognition by prior immunity. We compare overall rates of amino acid substitution between these antigenically-evolving viruses and SARS-CoV-2, showing that SARS-CoV-2 viruses are accumulating protein-coding changes at substantially faster rates than these endemic viruses.