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1.  Host Cytokine Responses of Pigeons Infected with Highly Pathogenic Thai Avian Influenza Viruses of Subtype H5N1 Isolated from Wild Birds 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(8):e23103.
Highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAIV) of the H5N1 subtype has been reported to infect pigeons asymptomatically or induce mild symptoms. However, host immune responses of pigeons inoculated with HPAIVs have not been well documented. To assess host responses of pigeons against HPAIV infection, we compared lethality, viral distribution and mRNA expression of immune related genes of pigeons infected with two HPAIVs (A/Pigeon/Thailand/VSMU-7-NPT/2004; Pigeon04 and A/Tree sparrow/Ratchaburi/VSMU-16-RBR/2005; T.sparrow05) isolated from wild birds in Thailand. The survival experiment showed that 25% of pigeons died within 2 weeks after the inoculation of two HPAIVs or medium only, suggesting that these viruses did not cause lethal infection in pigeons. Pigeon04 replicated in the lungs more efficiently than T.sparrow05 and spread to multiple extrapulmonary organs such as the brain, spleen, liver, kidney and rectum on days 2, 5 and 9 post infection. No severe lesion was observed in the lungs infected with Pigeon04 as well as T.sparrow05 throughout the collection periods. Encephalitis was occasionally observed in Pigeon04- or T.sparrow05-infected brain, the severity, however was mostly mild. To analyze the expression of immune-related genes in the infected pigeons, we established a quantitative real-time PCR analysis for 14 genes of pigeons. On day 2 post infection, Pigeon04 induced mRNA expression of Mx1, PKR and OAS to a greater extent than T.sparrow05 in the lungs, however their expressions were not up-regulated concomitantly on day 5 post infection when the peak viral replication was observed. Expressions of TLR3, IFNα, IL6, IL8 and CCL5 in the lungs following infection with the two HPAIVs were low. In sum, Pigeon04 exhibited efficient replication in the lungs compared to T.sparrow05, but did not induce excessive host cytokine expressions. Our study has provided the first insight into host immune responses of pigeons against HPAIV infection.
PMCID: PMC3149639  PMID: 21826229
2.  Reassortment of NS Segments Modifies Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Virus Interaction with Avian Hosts and Host Cells 
Journal of Virology  2013;87(10):5362-5371.
Highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses (HPAIV) of subtypes H5 and H7 have caused numerous outbreaks in diverse poultry species and rising numbers of human infections. Both HPAIV subtypes support a growing concern of a pandemic outbreak, specifically via the avian-human link. Natural reassortment of both HPAIV subtypes is a possible event with unpredictable outcome for virulence and host specificity of the progeny virus for avian and mammalian species. NS reassortment of H5N1 HPAIV viruses in the background of A/FPV/Rostock/1934 (H7N1) HPAIV has been shown to change virus replication kinetics and host cell responses in mammalian cells. However, not much is known about the virus-host interaction of such viruses in avian species. In the present study, we show that the NS segment of A/Vietnam/1203/2004 (FPV NS VN, H5N1) HPAIV significantly altered the characteristics of the H7 prototype HPAIV in tracheal organ cultures (TOC) of chicken and turkey in vitro, with decreased replication efficiency accompanied by increased induction of type I interferon (IFN) and apoptosis. Furthermore, species-specific differences between chicken and turkey were demonstrated. Interestingly, NS-reassortant FPV NS VN showed an overall highly pathogenic phenotype, with increased virulence and replication potential compared to the wild-type virus after systemic infection of chicken and turkey embryos. Our data demonstrate that single reassortment of an H5-type NS into an H7-type HPAIV significantly changed virus replication abilities and influenced the avian host cell response without prior adaptation.
PMCID: PMC3648139  PMID: 23468508
3.  Experimental Infection of a North American Raptor, American Kestrel (Falco sparverius), with Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Virus (H5N1) 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(10):e7555.
Several species of wild raptors have been found in Eurasia infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAIV) subtype H5N1. Should HPAIV (H5N1) reach North America in migratory birds, species of raptors are at risk not only from environmental exposure, but also from consuming infected birds and carcasses. In this study we used American kestrels as a representative species of a North American raptor to examine the effects of HPAIV (H5N1) infection in terms of dose response, viral shedding, pathology, and survival. Our data showed that kestrels are highly susceptible to HPAIV (H5N1). All birds typically died or were euthanized due to severe neurologic disease within 4–5 days of inoculation and shed significant amounts of virus both orally and cloacally, regardless of dose administered. The most consistent microscopic lesions were necrosis in the brain and pancreas. This is the first experimental study of HPAIV infection in a North American raptor and highlights the potential risks to birds of prey if HPAIV (H5N1) is introduced into North America.
PMCID: PMC2760762  PMID: 19847294
4.  Marked Endotheliotropism of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Virus H5N1 following Intestinal Inoculation in Cats 
Journal of Virology  2012;86(2):1158-1165.
Highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAIV) H5N1 can infect mammals via the intestine; this is unusual since influenza viruses typically infect mammals via the respiratory tract. The dissemination of HPAIV H5N1 following intestinal entry and associated pathogenesis are largely unknown. To assess the route of spread of HPAIV H5N1 to other organs and to determine its associated pathogenesis, we inoculated infected chicken liver homogenate directly into the intestine of cats by use of enteric-coated capsules. Intestinal inoculation of HPAIV H5N1 resulted in fatal systemic disease. The spread of HPAIV H5N1 from the lumen of the intestine to other organs took place via the blood and lymphatic vascular systems but not via neuronal transmission. Remarkably, the systemic spread of the virus via the vascular system was associated with massive infection of endothelial and lymphendothelial cells, resulting in widespread hemorrhages. This is unique for influenza in mammals and resembles the pathogenesis of HPAIV infection in terrestrial poultry. It contrasts with the pathogenesis of systemic disease from the same virus following entry via the respiratory tract, where lesions are characterized mainly by necrosis and inflammation and are associated with the presence of influenza virus antigen in parenchymal, not endothelial cells. The marked endotheliotropism of the virus following intestinal inoculation indicates that the pathogenesis of systemic influenza virus infection in mammals may differ according to the portal of entry.
PMCID: PMC3255817  PMID: 22090101
5.  Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Virus Infection of Mallards with Homo- and Heterosubtypic Immunity Induced by Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza Viruses 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(8):e6706.
The potential role of wild birds as carriers of highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAIV) subtype H5N1 is still a matter of debate. Consecutive or simultaneous infections with different subtypes of influenza viruses of low pathogenicity (LPAIV) are very common in wild duck populations. To better understand the epidemiology and pathogenesis of HPAIV H5N1 infections in natural ecosystems, we investigated the influence of prior infection of mallards with homo- (H5N2) and heterosubtypic (H4N6) LPAIV on exposure to HPAIV H5N1. In mallards with homosubtypic immunity induced by LPAIV infection, clinical disease was absent and shedding of HPAIV from respiratory and intestinal tracts was grossly reduced compared to the heterosubtypic and control groups (mean GEC/100 µl at 3 dpi: 3.0×102 vs. 2.3×104 vs. 8.7×104; p<0.05). Heterosubtypic immunity induced by an H4N6 infection mediated a similar but less pronounced effect. We conclude that the epidemiology of HPAIV H5N1 in mallards and probably other aquatic wild bird species is massively influenced by interfering immunity induced by prior homo- and heterosubtypic LPAIV infections.
PMCID: PMC2724736  PMID: 19693268
6.  Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Virus (H5N1) in Frozen Duck Carcasses, Germany, 2007 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2009;15(2):272-279.
Article summary line: Phylogenetic and epidemiologic evidence shows incursion of HPAIV into the food chain.
We conducted phylogenetic and epidemiologic analyses to determine sources of outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAIV), subtype H5N1, in poultry holdings in 2007 in Germany, and a suspected incursion of HPAIV into the food chain through contaminated deep-frozen duck carcasses. In summer 2007, HPAIV (H5N1) outbreaks in 3 poultry holdings in Germany were temporally, spatially, and phylogenetically linked to outbreaks in wild aquatic birds. Detection of HPAIV (H5N1) in frozen duck carcass samples of retained slaughter batches of 1 farm indicated that silent infection had occurred for some time before the incidental detection. Phylogenetic analysis established a direct epidemiologic link between HPAIV isolated from duck meat and strains isolated from 3 further outbreaks in December 2007 in backyard chickens that had access to uncooked offal from commercial deep-frozen duck carcasses. Measures that will prevent such undetected introduction of HPAIV (H5N1) into the food chain are urgently required.
PMCID: PMC2657628  PMID: 19193272
Highly pathogenic avian influenza; food safety; H5N1; epidemiology; phylogeny; research
7.  Excessive Cytokine Response to Rapid Proliferation of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Viruses Leads to Fatal Systemic Capillary Leakage in Chickens 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(7):e68375.
Highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses (HPAIVs) cause lethal infection in chickens. Severe cases of HPAIV infections have been also reported in mammals, including humans. In both mammals and birds, the relationship between host cytokine response to the infection with HPAIVs and lethal outcome has not been well understood. In the present study, the highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses A/turkey/Italy/4580/1999 (H7N1) (Ty/Italy) and A/chicken/Netherlands/2586/2003 (H7N7) (Ck/NL) and the low pathogenic avian influenza virus (LPAIV) A/chicken/Ibaraki/1/2005 (H5N2) (Ck/Ibaraki) were intranasally inoculated into chickens. Ty/Italy replicated more extensively than Ck/NL in systemic tissues of the chickens, especially in the brain, and induced excessive mRNA expression of inflammatory and antiviral cytokines (IFN-γ, IL-1β, IL-6, and IFN-α) in proportion to its proliferation. Using in situ hybridization, IL-6 mRNA was detected mainly in microglial nodules in the brain of the chickens infected with Ty/Italy. Capillary leakage assessed by Evans blue staining was observed in multiple organs, especially in the brains of the chickens infected with Ty/Italy, and was not observed in those infected with Ck/NL. In contrast, LPAIV caused only local infection in the chickens, with neither apparent cytokine expression nor capillary leakage in any tissue of the chickens. The present results indicate that an excessive cytokine response is induced by rapid and extensive proliferation of HPAIV and causes fatal multiple organ failure in chickens.
PMCID: PMC3706397  PMID: 23874602
8.  The NS segment of H5N1 avian influenza viruses (AIV) enhances the virulence of an H7N1 AIV in chickens 
Veterinary Research  2014;45(1):7.
Some outbreaks involving highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses (HPAIV) of subtypes H5 and H7 were caused by avian-to-human transmissions. In nature, different influenza A viruses can reassort leading to new viruses with new characteristics. We decided to investigate the impact that the NS-segment of H5 HPAIV would have on viral pathogenicity of a classical avian H7 HPAIV in poultry, a natural host. We focussed this study based on our previous work that demonstrated that single reassortment of the NS-segment from an H5 HPAIV into an H7 HPAIV changes the ability of the virus to replicate in mammalian hosts. Our present data show that two different H7-viruses containing an NS-segment from H5–types (FPV NS GD or FPV NS VN) show an overall highly pathogenic phenotype compared with the wild type H7–virus (FPV), as characterized by higher viral shedding and earlier manifestation of clinical signs. Correlating with the latter, higher amounts of IFN-β mRNA were detected in the blood of NS-reassortant infected birds, 48 h post-infection (pi). Although lymphopenia was detected in chickens from all AIV-infected groups, also 48 h pi those animals challenged with NS-reassortant viruses showed an increase of peripheral monocyte/macrophage-like cells expressing high levels of IL-1β, as determined by flow cytometry. Taken together, these findings highlight the importance of the NS-segment in viral pathogenicity which is directly involved in triggering antiviral and pro-inflammatory cytokines found during HPAIV pathogenesis in chickens.
PMCID: PMC3922795  PMID: 24460592
9.  Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Virus among Wild Birds in Mongolia 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(9):e44097.
Mongolia combines a near absence of domestic poultry, with an abundance of migratory waterbirds, to create an ideal location to study the epidemiology of highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAIV) in a purely wild bird system. Here we present the findings of active and passive surveillance for HPAIV subtype H5N1 in Mongolia from 2005–2011, together with the results of five outbreak investigations. In total eight HPAIV outbreaks were confirmed in Mongolia during this period. Of these, one was detected during active surveillance employed by this project, three by active surveillance performed by Mongolian government agencies, and four through passive surveillance. A further three outbreaks were recorded in the neighbouring Tyva Republic of Russia on a lake that bisects the international border. No HPAIV was isolated (cultured) from 7,855 environmental fecal samples (primarily from ducks), or from 2,765 live, clinically healthy birds captured during active surveillance (primarily shelducks, geese and swans), while four HPAIVs were isolated from 141 clinically ill or dead birds located through active surveillance. Two low pathogenic avian influenza viruses (LPAIV) were cultured from ill or dead birds during active surveillance, while environmental feces and live healthy birds yielded 56 and 1 LPAIV respectively. All Mongolian outbreaks occurred in 2005 and 2006 (clade 2.2), or 2009 and 2010 (clade; all years in which spring HPAIV outbreaks were reported in Tibet and/or Qinghai provinces in China. The occurrence of outbreaks in areas deficient in domestic poultry is strong evidence that wild birds can carry HPAIV over at least moderate distances. However, failure to detect further outbreaks of clade 2.2 after June 2006, and clade after June 2010 suggests that wild birds migrating to and from Mongolia may not be competent as indefinite reservoirs of HPAIV, or that HPAIV did not reach susceptible populations during our study.
PMCID: PMC3439473  PMID: 22984464
10.  Protective Efficacy of Newcastle Disease Virus Expressing Soluble Trimeric Hemagglutinin against Highly Pathogenic H5N1 Influenza in Chickens and Mice 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(8):e44447.
Highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAIV) causes a highly contagious often fatal disease in poultry, resulting in significant economic losses in the poultry industry. HPAIV H5N1 also poses a major public health threat as it can be transmitted directly from infected poultry to humans. One effective way to combat avian influenza with pandemic potential is through the vaccination of poultry. Several live vaccines based on attenuated Newcastle disease virus (NDV) that express influenza hemagglutinin (HA) have been developed to protect chickens or mammalian species against HPAIV. However, the zoonotic potential of NDV raises safety concerns regarding the use of live NDV recombinants, as the incorporation of a heterologous attachment protein may result in the generation of NDV with altered tropism and/or pathogenicity.
Methodology/Principal Findings
In the present study we generated recombinant NDVs expressing either full length, membrane-anchored HA of the H5 subtype (NDV-H5) or a soluble trimeric form thereof (NDV-sH53). A single intramuscular immunization with NDV-sH53 or NDV-H5 fully protected chickens against disease after a lethal challenge with H5N1 and reduced levels of virus shedding in tracheal and cloacal swabs. NDV-sH53 was less protective than NDV-H5 (50% vs 80% protection) when administered via the respiratory tract. The NDV-sH53 was ineffective in mice, regardless of whether administered oculonasally or intramuscularly. In this species, NDV-H5 induced protective immunity against HPAIV H5N1, but only after oculonasal administration, despite the poor H5-specific serum antibody response it elicited.
Although NDV expressing membrane anchored H5 in general provided better protection than its counterpart expressing soluble H5, chickens could be fully protected against a lethal challenge with H5N1 by using the latter NDV vector. This study thus provides proof of concept for the use of recombinant vector vaccines expressing a soluble form of a heterologous viral membrane protein. Such vectors may be advantageous as they preclude the incorporation of heterologous membrane proteins into the viral vector particles.
PMCID: PMC3429475  PMID: 22952980
11.  Contributions of the Avian Influenza Virus HA, NA, and M2 Surface Proteins to the Induction of Neutralizing Antibodies and Protective Immunity▿  
Journal of Virology  2009;84(5):2408-2420.
Highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAIV) subtype H5N1 causes severe disease and mortality in poultry. Increased transmission of H5N1 HPAIV from birds to humans is a serious threat to public health. We evaluated the individual contributions of each of the three HPAIV surface proteins, namely, the hemagglutinin (HA), the neuraminidase (NA), and the M2 proteins, to the induction of HPAIV-neutralizing serum antibodies and protective immunity in chickens. Using reverse genetics, three recombinant Newcastle disease viruses (rNDVs) were engineered, each expressing the HA, NA, or M2 protein of H5N1 HPAIV. Chickens were immunized with NDVs expressing a single antigen (HA, NA, and M2), two antigens (HA+NA, HA+M2, and NA+M2), or three antigens (HA+NA+M2). Immunization with HA or NA induced high titers of HPAIV-neutralizing serum antibodies, with the response to HA being greater, thus identifying HA and NA as independent neutralization antigens. M2 did not induce a detectable neutralizing serum antibody response, and inclusion of M2 with HA or NA reduced the magnitude of the response. Immunization with HA alone or in combination with NA induced complete protection against HPAIV challenge. Immunization with NA alone or in combination with M2 did not prevent death following challenge, but extended the time period before death. Immunization with M2 alone had no effect on morbidity or mortality. Thus, there was no indication that M2 is immunogenic or protective. Furthermore, inclusion of NA in addition to HA in a vaccine preparation for chickens may not enhance the high level of protection provided by HA.
PMCID: PMC2820928  PMID: 20032181
12.  Newcastle Disease Virus-Vectored Vaccines Expressing the Hemagglutinin or Neuraminidase Protein of H5N1 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Virus Protect against Virus Challenge in Monkeys▿  
Journal of Virology  2009;84(3):1489-1503.
H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAIV) causes periodic outbreaks in humans, resulting in severe infections with a high (60%) incidence of mortality. The circulating strains have low human-to-human transmissibility; however, widespread concerns exist that enhanced transmission due to mutations could lead to a global pandemic. We previously engineered Newcastle disease virus (NDV), an avian paramyxovirus, as a vector to express the HPAIV hemagglutinin (HA) protein, and we showed that this vaccine (NDV/HA) induced a high level of HPAIV-specific mucosal and serum antibodies in primates when administered through the respiratory tract. Here we developed additional NDV-vectored vaccines expressing either HPAIV HA in which the polybasic cleavage site was replaced with that from a low-pathogenicity strain of influenza virus [HA(RV)], in order to address concerns of enhanced vector replication or genetic exchange, or HPAIV neuraminidase (NA). The three vaccine viruses [NDV/HA, NDV/HA(RV), and NDV/NA] were administered separately to groups of African green monkeys by the intranasal/intratracheal route. An additional group of animals received NDV/HA by aerosol administration. Each of the vaccine constructs was highly restricted for replication, with only low levels of virus shedding detected in respiratory secretions. All groups developed high levels of neutralizing antibodies against homologous and heterologous strains of HPAIV and were protected against challenge with 2 × 107 PFU of homologous HPAIV. Thus, needle-free, highly attenuated NDV-vectored vaccines expressing either HPAIV HA, HA(RV), or NA have been developed and demonstrated to be individually immunogenic and protective in a primate model of HPAIV infection. The finding that HA(RV) was protective indicates that it would be preferred for inclusion in a vaccine. The study also identified NA as an independent protective HPAIV antigen in primates. Furthermore, we demonstrated the feasibility of aerosol delivery of NDV-vectored vaccines.
PMCID: PMC2812327  PMID: 19923177
13.  Experimental Infection of Macaques with a Wild Water Bird-Derived Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Virus (H5N1) 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(12):e83551.
Highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAIV) continues to threaten human health. Non-human primate infection models of human influenza are desired. To establish an animal infection model with more natural transmission and to determine the pathogenicity of HPAIV isolated from a wild water bird in primates, we administered a Japanese isolate of HPAIV (A/whooper swan/Hokkaido/1/2008, H5N1 clade to rhesus and cynomolgus monkeys, in droplet form, via the intratracheal route. Infection of the lower and upper respiratory tracts and viral shedding were observed in both macaques. Inoculation of rhesus monkeys with higher doses of the isolate resulted in stronger clinical symptoms of influenza. Our results demonstrate that HPAIV isolated from a water bird in Japan is pathogenic in monkeys by experimental inoculation, and provide a new method for HPAIV infection of non-human primate hosts, a good animal model for investigation of HPAIV pathogenicity.
PMCID: PMC3867452  PMID: 24367600
14.  Live Poultry Trade in Southern China Provinces and HPAIV H5N1 Infection in Humans and Poultry: The Role of Chinese New Year Festivities 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(11):e49712.
The number of outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza virus of the H5N1 subtype (HPAIV H5N1) over the past 5 years has been drastically reduced in China but sporadic infections in poultry and humans are still occurring. In this study, we aimed to investigate seasonal patterns in the association between the movement of live poultry originating from southern China and HPAIV H5N1 infection history in humans and poultry in China.
Methodology/Principal Findings
During January to April 2010, longitudinal questionnaire surveys were carried out monthly in four wholesale live bird markets (LBMs) in Hunan and Guangxi provinces of South China. Using social network analysis, we found an increase in the number of observed links and degree centrality between LBMs and poultry sources in February and March compared to the months of January and April. The association of some live poultry traders (LPT’s) with a limited set of counties (within the catchment area of LBMs) in the months of February and March may support HPAIV H5N1 transmission and contribute to perpetuating HPAIV H5N1 virus circulation among certain groups of counties. The connectivity among counties experiencing human infection was significantly higher compared to counties without human infection for the months of January, March and April. Conversely, counties with poultry infections were found to be significantly less connected than counties without poultry infection for the month of February.
Our results show that temporal variation in live poultry trade in Southern China around the Chinese New Year festivities is associated with higher HPAIV H5N1 infection risk in humans and poultry. This study has shown that capturing the dynamic nature of poultry trade networks in Southern China improves our ability to explain the spatiotemporal dissemination in avian influenza viruses in China.
PMCID: PMC3500328  PMID: 23166751
15.  Acquisition of a Polybasic Hemagglutinin Cleavage Site by a Low-Pathogenic Avian Influenza Virus Is Not Sufficient for Immediate Transformation into a Highly Pathogenic Strain▿  
Journal of Virology  2009;83(11):5864-5868.
Highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses (HPAIV) differ from all other strains by a polybasic cleavage site in their hemagglutinin. All these HPAIV share the H5 or H7 subtype. In order to investigate whether the acquisition of a polybasic cleavage site by an avirulent avian influenza virus strain with a hemagglutinin other than H5 or H7 is sufficient for immediate transformation into an HPAIV, we adapted the hemagglutinin cleavage site of A/Duck/Ukraine/1/1963 (H3N8) to that of the HPAIV A/Chicken/Italy/8/98 (H5N2), A/Chicken/HongKong/220/97 (H5N1), or A/Chicken/Germany/R28/03 (H7N7) and generated the recombinant wild-type and cleavage site mutants. In contrast to the wild type, multicycle replication of these mutants in tissue culture was demonstrated by positive plaque assays and viral multiplication in the absence of exogenous trypsin. Therefore, in vitro all cleavage site mutants resemble an HPAIV. However, in chicken they did not exhibit high pathogenicity, although they could be reisolated from cloacal swabs to some extent, indicating enhanced replication in vivo. These results demonstrate that beyond the polybasic hemagglutinin cleavage site, the virulence of HPAIV in chicken is based on additional pathogenicity determinants within the hemagglutinin itself or in the other viral proteins. Taken together, these observations support the notion that acquisition of a polybasic hemagglutinin cleavage site by an avirulent strain with a non-H5/H7 subtype is only one among several alterations necessary for evolution into an HPAIV.
PMCID: PMC2681970  PMID: 19297482
16.  Differential Contribution of PB1-F2 to the Virulence of Highly Pathogenic H5N1 Influenza A Virus in Mammalian and Avian Species 
PLoS Pathogens  2011;7(8):e1002186.
Highly pathogenic avian influenza A viruses (HPAIV) of the H5N1 subtype occasionally transmit from birds to humans and can cause severe systemic infections in both hosts. PB1-F2 is an alternative translation product of the viral PB1 segment that was initially characterized as a pro-apoptotic mitochondrial viral pathogenicity factor. A full-length PB1-F2 has been present in all human influenza pandemic virus isolates of the 20th century, but appears to be lost evolutionarily over time as the new virus establishes itself and circulates in the human host. In contrast, the open reading frame (ORF) for PB1-F2 is exceptionally well-conserved in avian influenza virus isolates. Here we perform a comparative study to show for the first time that PB1-F2 is a pathogenicity determinant for HPAIV (A/Viet Nam/1203/2004, VN1203 (H5N1)) in both mammals and birds. In a mammalian host, the rare N66S polymorphism in PB1-F2 that was previously described to be associated with high lethality of the 1918 influenza A virus showed increased replication and virulence of a recombinant VN1203 H5N1 virus, while deletion of the entire PB1-F2 ORF had negligible effects. Interestingly, the N66S substituted virus efficiently invades the CNS and replicates in the brain of Mx+/+ mice. In ducks deletion of PB1-F2 clearly resulted in delayed onset of clinical symptoms and systemic spreading of virus, while variations at position 66 played only a minor role in pathogenesis. These data implicate PB1-F2 as an important pathogenicity factor in ducks independent of sequence variations at position 66. Our data could explain why PB1-F2 is conserved in avian influenza virus isolates and only impacts pathogenicity in mammals when containing certain amino acid motifs such as the rare N66S polymorphism.
Author Summary
Influenza A viruses can infect avian and mammalian hosts. Human infections with seasonal influenza virus strains are usually confined to the respiratory tract and are cleared within days by the immune system. In contrast, highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses can spread throughout the whole body, usually resulting in multi-organ failure and even death in immune competent hosts. Here, we investigated the species-specific function of an influenza A virus protein, PB1-F2, that is highly conserved in avian influenza virus strains but which is lost in many isolates from mammalian hosts. Our data indicate that PB1-F2 allows successful spreading of the virus throughout the body in experimentally infected ducks. In contrast, PB1-F2 does not contribute to the severity of HPAIV infections in mice. Nevertheless, a polymorphism at position 66 of PB1-F2 (N66S) that was found in the devastating 1918 pandemic virus and in several early H5N1 HPAIV isolates clearly increased pathogenicity of a HPAIV influenza virus in mice. Our findings might explain why the whole PB1-F2 ORF is conserved in avian influenza viruses, since it contributes to viral dissemination and pathogenicity, but can be lost in mammalian hosts as it has minimal effects on virulence.
PMCID: PMC3154844  PMID: 21852950
17.  Kinetic Characterization of PB1-F2-Mediated Immunopathology during Highly Pathogenic Avian H5N1 Influenza Virus Infection 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(3):e57894.
The PB1-F2 protein encoded by influenza A viruses can contribute to virulence, a feature that is dependent of its sequence polymorphism. Whereas PB1-F2 from some H1N1 viruses were shown to exacerbate the inflammatory response within the airways, the contribution of PB1-F2 to highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAIV) virulence in mammals remains poorly described. Using a H5N1 HPAIV strain isolated from duck and its PB1-F2 knocked-out mutant, we characterized the dynamics of PB1-F2-associated host response in a murine model of lethal pneumonia. The mean time of death was 10 days for the two viruses, allowing us to perform global transcriptomic analyses and detailed histological investigations of the infected lungs at multiple time points. At day 2 post-infection (pi), while no histopathological lesion was observed, PB1-F2 expression resulted in a significant inhibition of cellular pathways involved in macrophage activation and in a transcriptomic signature suggesting that it promotes damage to the epithelial barrier. At day 4 pi, the gene profile associated with PB1-F2 expression revealed dysfunctions in NK cells activity. At day 8 pi, PB1-F2 expression was strongly associated with increased transcription of genes encoding chemokines and cytokines implicated in the recruitment of granulocytes, as well as expression of a number of genes encoding enzymes expressed by neutrophils. These transcriptomic data were fully supported by the histopathological analysis of the mice lungs which evidenced more severe inflammatory lesions and enhanced recruitment of neutrophils in the context of PB1-F2 expression, and thus provided a functional corroboration to the insight obtained in this work. In summary, our study shows that PB1-F2 of H5N1 HPAIV markedly influences the expression of the host transcriptome in a different way than its H1N1 counterparts: H5N1 PB1-F2 first delays the initial immune response but increases the pulmonary inflammatory response during the late stages of infection.
PMCID: PMC3585811  PMID: 23469251
18.  Pathogenesis and transmissibility of highly (H7N1) and low (H7N9) pathogenic avian influenza virus infection in red-legged partridge (Alectoris rufa) 
Veterinary Research  2011;42(1):24.
An experimental infection with highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAIV) and low pathogenic avian influenza virus (LPAIV) was carried out in red-legged partridges (Alectoris rufa) in order to study clinical signs, gross and microscopic lesions, and viral distribution in tissues and viral shedding. Birds were infected with a HPAIV subtype H7N1 (A/Chicken/Italy/5093/1999) and a LPAIV subtype H7N9 (A/Anas crecca/Spain/1460/2008). Uninoculated birds were included as contacts in both groups. In HPAIV infected birds, the first clinical signs were observed at 3 dpi, and mortality started at 4 dpi, reaching 100% at 8 dpi. The presence of viral antigen in tissues and viral shedding were confirmed by immunohistochemistry and quantitative real time RT-PCR (qRRT-PCR), respectively, in all birds infected with HPAIV. However, neither clinical signs nor histopathological findings were observed in LPAIV infected partridges. In addition, only short-term viral shedding together with seroconversion was detected in some LPAIV inoculated animals. The present study demonstrates that the red-legged partridge is highly susceptible to the H7N1 HPAIV strain, causing severe disease, mortality and abundant viral shedding and thus contributing to the spread of a potential local outbreak of this virus. In contrast, our results concerning H7N9 LPAIV suggest that the red-legged partridge is not a reservoir species for this virus.
PMCID: PMC3045332  PMID: 21314907
19.  Immunization of Primates with a Newcastle Disease Virus-Vectored Vaccine via the Respiratory Tract Induces a High Titer of Serum Neutralizing Antibodies against Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Virus▿  
Journal of Virology  2007;81(21):11560-11568.
The ongoing outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAIV) in birds, the incidence of transmission to humans with a resulting high mortality rate, and the possibility of a human pandemic warrant the development of effective human vaccines against HPAIV. We developed an experimental live-attenuated vaccine for direct inoculation of the respiratory tract based on recombinant avian Newcastle disease virus (NDV) expressing the hemagglutinin (HA) glycoprotein of H5N1 HPAIV (NDV-HA). Expression of the HPAIV HA gene slightly reduced NDV virulence, as evidenced by the increased mean embryo death time and reduced replication in chickens. NDV-HA was administered to African green monkeys in two doses of 2 × 107 infectious units each with a 28-day interval to evaluate the systemic and local antibody responses specific to H5N1 HPAIV. The virus was shed only at low titers from the monkeys, indicative of safety. Two doses of NDV-HA induced a high titer of H5N1 HPAIV-neutralizing serum antibodies in all of the immunized monkeys. Moreover, a substantial mucosal immunoglobulin A response was induced in the respiratory tract after one and two doses. The titers of neutralizing antibodies achieved in this study suggest that the vaccine would be likely to prevent mortality and reduce morbidity caused by the H5N1 HPAIV. In addition, induction of a local immune response in the respiratory tract is an important advantage that is likely to reduce or prevent transmission of the virus during an outbreak or a pandemic. This vaccine is a candidate for clinical evaluation in humans.
PMCID: PMC2168795  PMID: 17715243
20.  Rapid PCR-Based Molecular Pathotyping of H5 and H7 Avian Influenza Viruses ▿ †  
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2011;49(11):3860-3873.
While the majority of avian influenza virus (AIV) subtypes are classified as low-pathogenicity avian influenza viruses (LPAIV), the H5 and H7 subtypes have the ability to mutate to highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses (HPAIV) in poultry and therefore are the etiological agents of notifiable AIV (NAIV). It is of great importance to distinguish HPAIV from LPAIV variants during H5/H7 outbreaks and surveillance. To this end, a novel and fast strategy for the molecular pathotyping of H5/H7 AIVs is presented. The differentiation of the characteristic hemagglutinin (HA) protein cleavage sites (CSs) of HPAIVs and LPAIVs is achieved by a novel PCR method where the samples are interrogated for all existing CSs with a 484-plex primer mixture directly targeting the CS region. CSs characteristic for HP or LP H5/H7 viruses are distinguished in a seminested duplex real-time PCR format using plexor fluorogenic primers. Eighty-six laboratory isolates and 60 characterized NAIV-positive clinical specimens from poultry infected with H5/H7 both experimentally and in the field were successfully pathotyped in the validation. The method has the potential to substitute CS sequencing in the HA gene for the determination of the molecular pathotype, thereby providing a rapid means to acquire additional information concerning NAIV outbreaks, which may be critical to their management. The new assay may be extended to the LP/HP differentiation of previously unknown H5/H7 isolates. It may be considered for integration into surveillance and control programs in both domestic and wild bird populations.
PMCID: PMC3209088  PMID: 21900520
21.  Highly Pathogenic H5N1 Influenza Viruses Carry Virulence Determinants beyond the Polybasic Hemagglutinin Cleavage Site 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(7):e11826.
Highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses (HPAIV) originate from avirulent precursors but differ from all other influenza viruses by the presence of a polybasic cleavage site in their hemagglutinins (HA) of subtype H5 or H7. In this study, we investigated the ability of a low-pathogenic avian H5N1 strain to transform into an HPAIV. Using reverse genetics, we replaced the monobasic HA cleavage site of the low-pathogenic strain A/Teal/Germany/Wv632/2005 (H5N1) (TG05) by a polybasic motif from an HPAIV (TG05poly). To elucidate the virulence potential of all viral genes of HPAIV, we generated two reassortants carrying the HA from the HPAIV A/Swan/Germany/R65/06 (H5N1) (R65) plus the remaining genes from TG05 (TG05-HAR65) or in reversed composition the mutated TG05 HA plus the R65 genes (R65-HATG05poly). In vitro, TG05poly and both reassortants were able to replicate without the addition of trypsin, which is characteristic for HPAIV. Moreover, in contrast to avirulent TG05, the variants TG05poly, TG05-HAR65, and R65-HATG05poly are pathogenic in chicken to an increasing degree. Whereas the HA cleavage site mutant TG05poly led to temporary non-lethal disease in all animals, the reassortant TG05-HAR65 caused death in 3 of 10 animals. Furthermore, the reassortant R65-HATG05poly displayed the highest lethality as 8 of 10 chickens died, resembling “natural” HPAIV strains. Taken together, acquisition of a polybasic HA cleavage site is only one necessary step for evolution of low-pathogenic H5N1 strains into HPAIV. However, these low-pathogenic strains may already have cryptic virulence potential. Moreover, besides the polybasic cleavage site, the additional virulence determinants of H5N1 HPAIV are located within the HA itself and in other viral proteins.
PMCID: PMC2910732  PMID: 20676399
22.  Systemic virus distribution and host responses in brain and intestine of chickens infected with low pathogenic or high pathogenic avian influenza virus 
Virology Journal  2012;9:61.
Avian influenza virus (AIV) is classified into two pathotypes, low pathogenic (LP) and high pathogenic (HP), based on virulence in chickens.
Differences in pathogenicity between HPAIV and LPAIV might eventually be related to specific characteristics of strains, tissue tropism and host responses.
To study differences in disease development between HPAIV and LPAIV, we examined the first appearance and eventual load of viral RNA in multiple organs as well as host responses in brain and intestine of chickens infected with two closely related H7N1 HPAIV or LPAIV strains.
Both H7N1 HPAIV and LPAIV spread systemically in chickens after a combined intranasal/intratracheal inoculation. In brain, large differences in viral RNA load and host gene expression were found between H7N1 HPAIV and LPAIV infected chickens. Chicken embryo brain cell culture studies revealed that both HPAIV and LPAIV could infect cultivated embryonic brain cells, but in accordance with the absence of the necessary proteases, replication of LPAIV was limited. Furthermore, TUNEL assay indicated apoptosis in brain of HPAIV infected chickens only. In intestine, where endoproteases that cleave HA of LPAIV are available, we found minimal differences in the amount of viral RNA and a large overlap in the transcriptional responses between HPAIV and LPAIV infected chickens. Interestingly, brain and ileum differed clearly in the cellular pathways that were regulated upon an AI infection.
Although both H7N1 HPAIV and LPAIV RNA was detected in a broad range of tissues beyond the respiratory and gastrointestinal tract, our observations indicate that differences in pathogenicity and mortality between HPAIV and LPAIV could originate from differences in virus replication and the resulting host responses in vital organs like the brain.
PMCID: PMC3314540  PMID: 22390870
Avian Influenza; Chickens; Gene expression; Systemic distribution
23.  PA from an H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza virus activates viral transcription and replication and induces apoptosis and interferon expression at an early stage of infection 
Virology Journal  2012;9:106.
Although gene exchange is not likely to occur freely, reassortment between the H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAIV) and currently circulating human viruses is a serious concern. The PA polymerase subunit of H5N1 HPAIV was recently reported to activate the influenza replicon activity.
The replicon activities of PR8 and WSN strains (H1N1) of influenza containing PA from HPAIV A/Cambodia/P0322095/2005 (H5N1) and the activity of the chimeric RNA polymerase were analyzed. A reassortant WSN virus containing the H5N1 Cambodia PA (C-PA) was then reconstituted and its growth in cells and pathogenicity in mice examined. The interferon promoter, TUNEL, and caspase 3, 8, and 9 activities of C-PA-infected cells were compared with those of WSN-infected cells.
The activity of the chimeric RNA polymerase was slightly higher than that of WSN, and C-PA replicated better than WSN in cells. However, the multi-step growth of C-PA and its pathogenicity in mice were lower than those of WSN. The interferon promoter, TUNEL, and caspase 3, 8, and 9 activities were strongly induced in early infection in C-PA-infected cells but not in WSN-infected cells.
Apoptosis and interferon were strongly induced early in C-PA infection, which protected the uninfected cells from expansion of viral infection. In this case, these classical host-virus interactions contributed to the attenuation of this strongly replicating virus.
PMCID: PMC3507744  PMID: 22681768
Influenza virus; PA; Transcription; Replication; Apoptosis; Interferon
24.  Inhibition of p38 Mitogen-activated Protein Kinase Impairs Influenza Virus-induced Primary and Secondary Host Gene Responses and Protects Mice from Lethal H5N1 Infection* 
Background: Early cytokine dysregulation upon infection with highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses (HPAIV) is a major determinant of viral pathogenicity.
Results: p38 MAPK controls HPAIV-induced gene expression by regulating interferon synthesis and subsequently interferon signaling, whereas its inhibition protects mice from lethal infection.
Conclusion: p38 MAPK is crucial for the induction of hypercytokinemia upon infection.
Significance: Targeting p38 MAPK is a promising approach for antiviral intervention.
Highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses (HPAIV) induce severe inflammation in poultry and men. One characteristic of HPAIV infections is the induction of a cytokine burst that strongly contributes to viral pathogenicity. This cell-intrinsic hypercytokinemia seems to involve hyperinduction of p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase. Here we investigate the role of p38 MAPK signaling in the antiviral response against HPAIV in mice as well as in human endothelial cells, the latter being a primary source of cytokines during systemic infections. Global gene expression profiling of HPAIV-infected endothelial cells in the presence of the p38-specific inhibitor SB 202190 revealed that inhibition of p38 MAPK leads to reduced expression of IFNβ and other cytokines after H5N1 and H7N7 infection. More than 90% of all virus-induced genes were either partially or fully dependent on p38 signaling. Moreover, promoter analysis confirmed a direct impact of p38 on the IFNβ promoter activity. Furthermore, upon treatment with IFN or conditioned media from HPAIV-infected cells, p38 controls interferon-stimulated gene expression by coregulating STAT1 by phosphorylation at serine 727. In vivo inhibition of p38 MAPK greatly diminishes virus-induced cytokine expression concomitant with reduced viral titers, thereby protecting mice from lethal infection. These observations show that p38 MAPK acts on two levels of the antiviral IFN response. Initially the kinase regulates IFN induction and, at a later stage, p38 controls IFN signaling and thereby expression of IFN-stimulated genes. Thus, inhibition of MAP kinase p38 may be an antiviral strategy that protects mice from lethal influenza by suppressing excessive cytokine expression.
PMCID: PMC3879537  PMID: 24189062
Endothelium; Influenza Virus; Interferon; p38 MAPK; STAT Transcription Factor; JAK/STAT Signaling; Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Virus (HPAIV); Hypercytokinemia
25.  Identification of Host Genes Linked with the Survivability of Chickens Infected with Recombinant Viruses Possessing H5N1 Surface Antigens from a Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Virus 
Journal of Virology  2012;86(5):2686-2695.
Seventeen recombinant viruses were generated by a reverse genetic technique to elucidate the pathogenicity of highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses (HPAIVs) in chickens. The recombinant viruses generated possessed hemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase (NA) genes from an HPAIV. Other segments were combinations of the genes from an HPAIV and two low-pathogenic avian influenza viruses (LPAIVs) derived from chicken (LP) and wild bird (WB). Exchange of whole internal genes from an HPAIV with those of an LPAIV resulted in a significant extension of the survival time following intranasal infection of the chickens with the recombinants. Survival analysis demonstrated that the exchange of a gene segment affected survivability of the chickens with statistical significance. The analysis revealed three groups of recombinants with various gene constellations that depended upon the survivability of the infected chickens. Recombinants where the PA gene was exchanged from LP to WB in the LP gene background, LP (W/PA), did not kill any chickens. LP (W/PA) replicated less efficiently both in vitro and in vivo, suggesting that the intrinsic replication ability of LP (W/PA) affects pathogenicity; however, such a correlation was not seen for the other recombinants. Microarray analysis of the infected chicken lungs indicated that the expression of 7 genes, CD274, RNF19B, OASL, AC3HAV1, PLA2G6, GCH1, and USP18, correlated with the survivability of the chickens infected (P < 0.01). Further analysis of the functions of these genes in chickens would aid in the understanding of host gene responses following fatal infections by HPAIVs.
PMCID: PMC3302244  PMID: 22190712

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