Insights into Synonymous Codon Usage Bias in Hepatitis C Virus and Its Adaptation to Hosts
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Abstract: Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is enveloped RNA virus, encoding for a polyprotein that is processed by cellular proteases. The virus is responsible for liver cirrhosis, allograft rejection, and human hepatocellular carcinoma. Based on studies including compositional analysis, odds ratio analysis, parity analysis, skew analysis, relative synonymous codon usage, codon bias, and protein properties, it was evident that codon usage bias in HCV is dependent upon the nucleotide composition. Codon context analysis revealed CTC-CTG as a preferred codon pair. While CGA and CGT codons were rare, none of the codons were rare in HCV-like viruses envisaged in the present study. Many of the preferred codon pairs were valine amino acid-initiated, which possibly infers viral infectivity; hence the role of selection forces appears to act on the HCV genome, which was further validated by neutrality analysis where selection accounted for 87.28%, while mutation accounted for 12.72% force shaping codon usage. Furthermore, codon usage was correlated with the length of the genome. HCV viruses prefer valine-initiated codon pairs, while HCV-like viruses prefer alanine-initiated codon pairs. The HCV host range is very narrow and is confined to only humans and chimpanzees. Based on indices including codon usage correlation analysis, similarity index, and relative codon deoptimization index, it is evident in the study that the chimpanzee is the primary host of the virus. The present study helped elucidate the preferred host for HCV. The information presented in the study paved the way for generating an attenuated vaccine candidate through viral recoding, with finely tuned nucleotide composition and a perfect balance of preferred and rare codons.