Recent out-of-Africa migration of human herpes simplex viruses

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Herpes simplex viruses types 1 and 2 (HSV-1 and HSV-2) are ubiquitous human pathogens. Both viruses evolved from simplexviruses infecting African primates and they are thus thought to have left Africa during early human migrations. We analyzed the population structure of HSV-1 and HSV-2 circulating strains. Results indicated that HSV-1 populations have limited geographic structure and the most evident clustering by geography is likely due to recent bottlenecks. For HSV-2, the only level of population structure is accounted for by the so-called "worldwide" and "African" lineages. Analysis of ancestry components and nucleotide diversity, however, did not support the view that the worldwide lineage followed early humans during out-of-Africa dispersal. Although phylogeographic analysis confirmed an African origin for both viruses, molecular dating with a method that corrects for the time-dependent rate phenomenon indicated that HSV-1 and HSV-2 migrated from Africa in relatively recent times. In particular, we estimated that the HSV-2 worldwide lineage left the continent in the 18th Century, which corresponds to the height of the transatlantic slave trade, possibly explaining the high prevalence of HSV-2 in the Americas (second highest after Africa). The limited geographic clustering of HSV-1 makes it difficult to date its exit from Africa. The split between the basal clade, containing mostly African sequences, and all other strains was dated at ∼5,000 years ago. Our data do not imply that herpes simplex viruses did not infect early humans, but show that the worldwide distribution of circulating strains is the result of relatively recent events.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMolecular Biology and Evolution
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Jan 9 2020


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