Life History of the Oldest Lentivirus: Characterization of ELVgv Integrations in the Dermopteran Genome

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Endogenous retroviruses are genomic elements formed by germline infiltration by originally exogenous viruses. These molecular fossils provide valuable information about the evolution of the retroviral family. Lentiviruses are an extensively studied genus of retroviruses infecting a broad range of mammals. Despite a wealth of information on their modern evolution, little is known about their origins. This is partially due to the scarcity of their endogenous forms. Recently, an endogenous lentivirus, ELVgv, was discovered in the genome of the Malayan colugo (order Dermoptera). This represents the oldest lentiviral evidence available and promises to lead to further insights into the history of this genus. In this study, we analyzed ELVgv integrations at several genomic locations in four distinct colugo specimens covering all the extant dermopteran species. We confirmed ELVgv integrations in all the specimens examined, which implies that the virus originated before the dermopteran diversification. Using a locus-specific dermopteran substitution rate, we estimated that the proviral integrations occurred 21–40 Ma. Using phylogenetic analysis, we estimated that ELVgv invaded an ancestor of today’s Dermoptera in an even more distant past. We also provide evidence of selective pressure on the TRIM5 antiviral restriction factor, something usually taken as indirect evidence of past retroviral infections. Interestingly, we show that TRIM5 was under strong positive selection pressure only in the common dermopteran ancestor, where the ELVgv endogenization occurred. Further experiments are required to determine whether ELVgv participated in the TRIM5 selection.

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