Epistasis among Deleterious Mutations in the HIV-1 Protease

Mariona Parera, Nuria Perez-Alvarez, Bonaventura Clotet, Miguel Angel Martínez

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22 Citations (Scopus)


A central goal in molecular evolution is to understand how genetic interactions between protein mutations shape protein function and fitness. While intergenic epistasis has been extensively explored in eukaryotes, bacteria, and viruses, intragenic epistatic interactions have been insufficiently studied. Here, we employ a model system in which lambda phage fitness correlates with the enzymatic activity of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) protease to systematically determine the epistatic interactions between intragenic pairs of deleterious protein substitutions. We generated 114 genotypes of the HIV-1 protease, each carrying pairs of nucleotide substitution mutations whose separated and combined deleterious effects on fitness were then determined. A high proportion (39%) of pairs displayed lethality. Several pairs exhibited significant interactions for fitness, including positive and negative epistasis. Significant negative epistatic interactions predominated (15%) over positive interactions (2%). However, the average ± SD epistatic effect, ē = 0.0025 ± 0.1334, was not significantly different from zero (p = 0.8368). Notably, epistatic interactions, regardless of epistatic direction, tend to be more frequent in the context of less deleterious mutations. In the present study, the high frequencies of lethality and negative epistasis indicate that the HIV-1 protease is highly sensitive to the effects of deleterious mutations. Therefore, proteins may not be as robust to mutational change as is usually expected. © 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)243-250
JournalJournal of Molecular Biology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 18 Sept 2009


  • epistasis
  • fitness
  • HIV-1
  • mutation
  • protease


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