Long-term balancing selection at the antiviral gene oas1 in central African chimpanzees

William Ferguson, Shira Dvora, Ronald W. Fikes, Anne C. Stone, Stéphane Boissinot

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Oligoadenylate synthetases (OAS) are interferon-induced enzymes that participate in the first line of defense against a wide range of viral infection in animals. Upon activation by viral double-stranded RNA, OAS synthesizes (2-5) oligoadenylates, which activate RNase L, leading to the nonspecific degradation of cellular and viral RNA. Some association studies in humans suggest that variation at one of the OAS genes, OAS1, could be influencing host susceptibility to viral infection. We assessed the diversity of OAS1 in hominoid primates with a focus on chimpanzees. We found that the OAS1 gene is extremely polymorphic in Central African chimpanzee and exhibits levels of silent and replacement diversity much higher than neutral regions of the chimpanzee genome. This level of variation strongly suggests that balancing selection is acting on OAS1, and indeed, this conclusion was validated by several tests of neutrality. We further demonstrated that balancing selection has been acting at this locus since the split between chimpanzees, humans, and gorillas (∼8.6 Ma) and caused the persistence of two deeply divergent allelic lineages in Central African chimpanzees. These two groups of OAS1 alleles differ by a large number of amino acids (a.a.), including several a.a. putatively involved in RNA binding. It is therefore very likely that variation at the OAS1 locus affects the innate immune response of individuals to specific viral infection. Our data strongly suggest that interactions between viral RNA and OAS1 are responsible for the maintenance of ancestral polymorphisms at this locus for at least 13.2 My.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1093-1103
Number of pages11
JournalMolecular Biology and Evolution
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2012


  • OAS1
  • balancing selection
  • chimpanzee

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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