© 2018 Background: A huge outbreak in the men-having-sex-with-men (MSM) has hit Europe during the years 2016–2018. Outbreak control has been hampered by vaccine shortages in many countries, and to minimize their impact, reduction of antigen doses has been implemented. However, these measures may have consequences on the evolution of hepatitis A virus (HAV), leading to the emergence of antigenic variants. Cases in vaccinated MSM patients have been detected in Barcelona, opening the possibility to study HAV evolution under immune pressure. Methods: We performed deep-sequencing analysis of ten overlapping fragments covering the complete capsid coding region of HAV. A total of 14578255 reads were obtained and used for the analysis of virus evolution in vaccinated versus non-vaccinated patients. We estimated maximum and minimum mutation frequencies, and Shannon entropy in the quasispecies of each patient. Non-synonymous (NSyn) mutations affecting residues exposed in the capsid surface were located, with respect to epitopes, using the recently described crystal structure of HAV, as an indication of its potential role in escaping to the effect of vaccines. Findings: HAV evolution at the quasispecies level, in non-vaccinated and vaccinated patients, revealed higher diversity in epitope-coding regions of the vaccinated group. Although amino acid replacements occurring in and around the epitopes were observed in both groups, their abundance was significantly higher in the quasispecies of vaccinated patients, indicating ongoing processes of fixation. Interpretation: Our data suggest positive selection of antigenic variants in some vaccinated patients, raising concerns for new vaccination polices directed to the MSM group.
- Vaccine escape-mutants