The addition of asparagine (N)-linked polysaccharide chains (i.e., glycans) to the gp120 and gp41 glycoproteins of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) envelope is not only required for correct protein folding, but also may provide protection against neutralizing antibodies as a "glycan shield." As a result, strong host-specific selection is frequently associated with codon positions where nonsynonymous substitutions can create or disrupt potential N-linked glycosylation sites (PNGSs). Moreover, empirical data suggest that the individual contribution of PNGSs to the neutralization sensitivity or infectivity of HIV-1 may be critically dependent on the presence or absence of other PNGSs in the envelope sequence. Here we evaluate how glycan-glycan interactions have shaped the evolution of HIV-1 envelope sequences by analyzing the distribution of PNGSs in a large-sequence alignment. Using a "covarion"-type phylogenetic model, we find that the rates at which individual PNGSs are gained or lost vary significantly over time, suggesting that the selective advantage of having a PNGS may depend on the presence or absence of other PNGSs in the sequence. Consequently, we identify specific interactions between PNGSs in the alignment using a new paired-character phylogenetic model of evolution, and a Bayesian graphical model. Despite the fundamental differences between these two methods, several interactions are jointly identified by both. Mapping these interactions onto a structural model of HIV-1 gp120 reveals that negative (exclusive) interactions occur significantly more often between colocalized glycans, while positive (inclusive) interactions are restricted to more distant glycans. Our results imply that the adaptive repertoire of alternative configurations in the HIV-1 glycan shield is limited by functional interactions between the N-linked glycans. This represents a potential vulnerability of rapidly evolving HIV-1 populations that may provide useful glycan-based targets for neutralizing antibodies. © 2007 Poon et al.
Poon, A. F. Y., Lewis, F. I., Kosakovsky Pond, S. L., & Frost, S. D. W. (2007). Evolutionary interactions between N-Linked glycosylation sites in the HIV-1 envelope. PLoS Computational Biology, 3(1), 0110–0119. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.0030011