Indexed on: 16 Dec '17Published on: 16 Dec '17Published in: BMC Genomics
Intra-host hepatitis C virus (HCV) populations are genetically heterogeneous and organized in subpopulations. With the exception of blood transfusions, transmission of HCV occurs via a small number of genetic variants, the effect of which is frequently described as a bottleneck. Stochasticity of transmission associated with the bottleneck is usually used to explain genetic differences among HCV populations identified in the source and recipient cases, which may be further exacerbated by intra-host HCV evolution and differential biological capacity of HCV variants to successfully establish a population in a new host.Transmissibility was formulated as a property that can be measured from experimental Ultra-Deep Sequencing (UDS) data. The UDS data were obtained from one large hepatitis C outbreak involving an epidemiologically defined source and 18 recipient cases. k-Step networks of HCV variants were constructed and used to identify a potential association between transmissibility and network centrality of individual HCV variants from the source. An additional dataset obtained from nine other HCV outbreaks with known directionality of transmission was used for validation. Transmissibility was not found to be dependent on high frequency of variants in the source, supporting the earlier observations of transmission of minority variants. Among all tested measures of centrality, the highest correlation of transmissibility was found with Hamming centrality (r = 0.720; p = 1.57 E-71). Correlation between genetic distances and differences in transmissibility among HCV variants from the source was found to be 0.3276 (Mantel Test, p = 9.99 E-5), indicating association between genetic proximity and transmissibility. A strong correlation ranging from 0.565-0.947 was observed between Hamming centrality and transmissibility in 7 of the 9 additional transmission clusters (p < 0.05).Transmission is not an exclusively stochastic process. Transmissibility, as formally measured in this study, is associated with certain biological properties that also define location of variants in the genetic space occupied by the HCV strain from the source. The measure may also be applicable to other highly heterogeneous viruses. Besides improving accuracy of outbreak investigations, this finding helps with the understanding of molecular mechanisms contributing to establishment of chronic HCV infection.