Infection, Genetics and Evolution vol:12 issue:2 pages:453-460
Evolutionary analyses have revealed an origin of pandemic HIV-1 group M in the Congo River basin in the first part of the XX century, but the patterns of historical viral spread in or around its epicentre remain largely unexplored. Here, we combine epidemiologic and molecular sequence data to investigate the spatiotemporal patterns of the CRF02_AG clade. By explicitly integrating prevalence counts and genetic population size estimates we date the epidemic emergence of CRF02_AG at 1973.1 (1972.1, 1975.3, 95% CI). To infer their phylogeographic signature at a regional scale, we analyze pol and env time-stamped sequence data from 10 countries using a Bayesian phylogeographic approach based on an asymmetric discretized diffusion model. Our data confirms a spatial origin of CRF02_AG in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and suggests that viral dissemination to Cameroon occurred at an early stage of the evolutionary history of CRF02_AG. We find considerable support for epidemiological linkage between neighbour countries. Compilation of ethnographic data suggested that well-supported viral migration did not reflect sustained human migratory flows. Finally, using sequence data from 15 locations in Cameroon, we use relaxed random walk models to explore the spatiotemporal dynamics of CRF02_AG at a finer geographical detail. Phylogeographic dispersal in continuous space reveals that at least two distinct CRF02_AG lineages are circulating in overlapping regions that are evolving at different evolutionary and diffusion rates. In conclusion, by combining molecular and epidemiological data, our results provide a time scale for CRF02_AG, early 70s, place its spatial root in the DRC within the putative root of group-M diversity and propose a scenario of chance-exportation events for the spatiotemporal patterns of a successful HIV-1 lineage both at a regional and country-scale.