Evolution of pathogenic viruses with special reference to the rates of synonymous and nonsynonymous substitutions.
For pathogenic viruses such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV), human influenza A virus, and human T-cell leukemia virus type I (HTLV-I), the evolutionary features were briefly reviewed with special reference to the rates of synonymous and nonsynonymous substitutions. In particular, these rates were discussed in connection with the neutral theory of molecular evolution. It was common to all the five pathogenic viruses that the rate of synonymous substitution was higher than that of nonsynonymous substitution particularly when the entire gene regions were compared between different isolates. This suggests that the viral proteins are quite conservative to functional and structural changes even though most of these viral genomes are evolving at a speed extraordinarily higher than their host genomes. Thus, this feature is consistent with the neutral theory. However, it is also pointed out that positive selection may be operating on some specific sites such as antigenic sites in order for the pathogenic viruses to escape from the host immune system.