Tong JC, Simarmata D, Lin RTP, Rénia L, Ng LFP (2010) HLA Class I Restriction as a Possible Driving Force for Chikungunya Evolution. PLoS ONE 5(2): e9291. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0009291
After two decades of quiescence, epidemic resurgence of Chikungunya fever (CHIKF) was reported in Africa, several islands in the Indian Ocean, South-East Asia and the Pacific causing unprecedented morbidity with some cases of fatality. Early phylogenetic analyses based on partial sequences of Chikungunya virus (CHIKV) have led to speculation that the virus behind recent epidemics may result in greater pathogenicity. To understand the reasons for these new epidemics, we first performed extensive analyses of existing CHIKV sequences from its introduction in 1952 to 2009. Our results revealed the existence of a continuous genotypic lineage, suggesting selective pressure is active in CHIKV evolution. We further showed that CHIKV is undergoing mild positive selection, and that site-specific mutations may be driven by cell-mediated immune pressure, with occasional changes that resulted in the loss of human leukocyte antigen (HLA) class I-restricting elements. These findings provide a basis to understand Chikungunya virus evolution and reveal the power of post-genomic analyses to understand CHIKV and other viral epidemiology. Such an approach is useful for studying the impact of host immunity on pathogen evolution, and may help identify appropriate antigens suitable for subunit vaccine formulations.