Foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV) is the causative agent of an acute vesicular disease affecting wild and domesticated animals. Despite the economic burden of the disease and all efforts to eradicate it, FMD outbreaks continue to emerge unexpectedly in developed and developing countries. Correlation of the mutational dynamics of the virus with its epidemiology remains unexplored. Analysis of 103 complete genomes representing the seven serotypes shows the important role that selection plays in the genomic evolution of viral isolates for serotypes. We identified selection and relaxed constraints due to genetic drift through analyses of synonymous sites. Finally, we investigated interactions between mutations that showed coevolving patterns and analyzed, based on protein structures, slightly deleterious and compensatory mutational dynamics. Specifically, we demonstrate that structurally exposed capsid proteins present a greater number of adaptive mutations and relaxed selection than nonstructural proteins. Such events have been magnified during the evolution of the southern African virus types (SATs). These shifts in selection-drift balance have generated the great antigenic and genetic diversity observed for SAT serotypes and that are responsible for epizootics on the continent of Africa. The high number of slightly deleterious and compensatory mutations in SAT serotypes in structural proteins is testament to such balance plasticity. The significant accumulation of these coevolving mutations in African serotypes supports their contribution in generating adaptive immune-escaping mutants and in establishing persistent infections. The reverse of this pattern in nonstructural proteins reveals the neutral fixation of mutations in the more widely spread and commonly studied Euro-Asiatic serotypes.
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