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1.  Comparative structural analysis of haemagglutinin proteins from type A influenza viruses: conserved and variable features 
BMC Bioinformatics  2014;15(1):363.
Genome variation is very high in influenza A viruses. However, viral evolution and spreading is strongly influenced by immunogenic features and capacity to bind host cells, depending in turn on the two major capsidic proteins. Therefore, such viruses are classified based on haemagglutinin and neuraminidase types, e.g. H5N1. Current analyses of viral evolution are based on serological and primary sequence comparison; however, comparative structural analysis of capsidic proteins can provide functional insights on surface regions possibly crucial to antigenicity and cell binding.
We performed extensive structural comparison of influenza virus haemagglutinins and of their domains and subregions to investigate type- and/or domain-specific variation. We found that structural closeness and primary sequence similarity are not always tightly related; moreover, type-specific features could be inferred when comparing surface properties of haemagglutinin subregions, monomers and trimers, in terms of electrostatics and hydropathy. Focusing on H5N1, we found that variation at the receptor binding domain surface intriguingly relates to branching of still circulating clades from those ones that are no longer circulating.
Evidence from this work suggests that integrating phylogenetic and serological analyses by extensive structural comparison can help in understanding the ‘functional evolution’ of viral surface determinants. In particular, variation in electrostatic and hydropathy patches can provide molecular evolution markers: intriguing surface charge redistribution characterizing the haemagglutinin receptor binding domains from circulating H5N1 clades 2 and 7 might have contributed to antigenic escape hence to their evolutionary success and spreading.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12859-014-0363-5) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4265342  PMID: 25492298
Haemagglutinin; Avian influenza virus; Viral evolution; H5N1; Antigenic drift; Receptor binding domain; Homology modeling; Isopotential contour; Hydropathy analysis
2.  Airborne Transmission of Highly Pathogenic H7N1 Influenza Virus in Ferrets 
Journal of Virology  2014;88(12):6623-6635.
Avian H7 influenza viruses are recognized as potential pandemic viruses, as personnel often become infected during poultry outbreaks. H7 infections in humans typically cause mild conjunctivitis; however, the H7N9 outbreak in the spring of 2013 has resulted in severe respiratory disease. To date, no H7 viruses have acquired the ability for sustained transmission among humans. Airborne transmission is considered a requirement for the emergence of pandemic influenza, and advanced knowledge of the molecular changes or signature required for transmission would allow early identification of pandemic vaccine seed stocks, screening and stockpiling of antiviral compounds, and eradication efforts focused on flocks harboring threatening viruses. Thus, we sought to determine if a highly pathogenic influenza A H7N1 (A/H7N1) virus with no history of human infection could become capable of airborne transmission among ferrets. We show that after 10 serial passages, A/H7N1 developed the ability to be transmitted to cohoused and airborne contact ferrets. Four amino acid mutations (PB2 T81I, NP V284M, and M1 R95K and Q211K) in the internal genes and a minimal amino acid mutation (K/R313R) in the stalk region of the hemagglutinin protein were associated with airborne transmission. Furthermore, transmission was not associated with loss of virulence. These findings highlight the importance of the internal genes in host adaptation and suggest that natural isolates carrying these mutations be further evaluated. Our results demonstrate that a highly pathogenic avian H7 virus can become capable of airborne transmission in a mammalian host, and they support ongoing surveillance and pandemic H7 vaccine development.
IMPORTANCE The major findings of this report are that a highly pathogenic strain of H7N1 avian influenza virus can be adapted to become capable of airborne transmission in mammals without mutations altering receptor specificity. Changes in receptor specificity have been shown to play a role in the ability of avian influenza viruses to cross the species barrier, and these changes are assumed to be essential. The work reported here challenges this paradigm, at least for the influenza viruses of the H7 subtype, which have recently become the focus of major attention, as they have crossed to humans.
PMCID: PMC4054360  PMID: 24696487
3.  Emergence of a Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Virus from a Low-Pathogenic Progenitor 
Journal of Virology  2014;88(8):4375-4388.
Avian influenza (AI) viruses of the H7 subtype have the potential to evolve into highly pathogenic (HP) viruses that represent a major economic problem for the poultry industry and a threat to global health. However, the emergence of HPAI viruses from low-pathogenic (LPAI) progenitor viruses currently is poorly understood. To investigate the origin and evolution of one of the most important avian influenza epidemics described in Europe, we investigated the evolutionary and spatial dynamics of the entire genome of 109 H7N1 (46 LPAI and 63 HPAI) viruses collected during Italian H7N1 outbreaks between March 1999 and February 2001. Phylogenetic analysis revealed that the LPAI and HPAI epidemics shared a single ancestor, that the HPAI strains evolved from the LPAI viruses in the absence of reassortment, and that there was a parallel emergence of mutations among HPAI and later LPAI lineages. Notably, an ultradeep-sequencing analysis demonstrated that some of the amino acid changes characterizing the HPAI virus cluster were already present with low frequency within several individual viral populations from the beginning of the LPAI H7N1 epidemic. A Bayesian phylogeographic analysis revealed stronger spatial structure during the LPAI outbreak, reflecting the more rapid spread of the virus following the emergence of HPAI. The data generated in this study provide the most complete evolutionary and phylogeographic analysis of epidemiologically intertwined high- and low-pathogenicity viruses undertaken to date and highlight the importance of implementing prompt eradication measures against LPAI to prevent the appearance of viruses with fitness advantages and unpredictable pathogenic properties.
IMPORTANCE The Italian H7 AI epidemic of 1999 to 2001 was one of the most important AI outbreaks described in Europe. H7 viruses have the ability to evolve into HP forms from LP precursors, although the mechanisms underlying this evolutionary transition are only poorly understood. We combined epidemiological information, whole-genome sequence data, and ultradeep sequencing approaches to provide the most complete characterization of the evolution of HPAI from LPAI viruses undertaken to date. Our analysis revealed that the LPAI viruses were the direct ancestors of the HPAI strains and identified low-frequency minority variants with HPAI mutations that were present in the LPAI samples. Spatial analysis provided key information for the design of effective control strategies for AI at both local and global scales. Overall, this work highlights the importance of implementing rapid eradication measures to prevent the emergence of novel influenza viruses with severe pathogenic properties.
PMCID: PMC3993777  PMID: 24501401
4.  Human Infection with Highly Pathogenic A(H7N7) Avian Influenza Virus, Italy, 2013 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2014;20(10):1745-1749.
During an influenza A(H7N7) virus outbreak among poultry in Italy during August–September 2013, infection with a highly pathogenic A(H7N7) avian influenza virus was diagnosed for 3 poultry workers with conjunctivitis. Genetic analyses revealed that the viruses from the humans were closely related to those from chickens on affected farms.
PMCID: PMC4193179  PMID: 25271444
Influenza; avian influenza A(H7N7) virus; zoonoses; transmission; viruses; Italy
5.  Cellular and Humoral Cross-Immunity against Two H3N2v Influenza Strains in Presumably Unexposed Healthy and HIV-Infected Subjects 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(8):e105651.
Human cases of infection due to a novel swine-origin variant of influenza A virus subtype H3N2 (H3N2v) have recently been identified in the United States. Pre-existing humoral and cellular immunity has been recognized as one of the key factors in limiting the infection burden of an emerging influenza virus strain, contributing to restrict its circulation and to mitigate clinical presentation. Aim of this study was to assess humoral and cell-mediated cross immune responses to H3N2v in immuno-competent (healthy donors, n = 45) and immuno-compromised hosts (HIV-infected subjects, n = 46) never exposed to H3N2v influenza strain. Humoral response against i) H3N2v (A/H3N2/Ind/08/11), ii) animal vaccine H3N2 strain (A/H3N2/Min/11/10), and iii) pandemic H1N1 virus (A/H1N1/Cal/07/09) was analysed by hemagglutination inhibition assay; cell-mediated response against the same influenza strains was analysed by ELISpot assay. A large proportion of healthy and HIV subjects displayed cross-reacting humoral and cellular immune responses against two H3N2v strains, suggesting the presence of B- and T-cell clones able to recognize epitopes from emerging viral strains in both groups. Specifically, humoral response was lower in HIV subjects than in HD, and a specific age-related pattern of antibody response against different influenza strains was observed both in HD and in HIV. Cellular immune response was similar between HD and HIV groups and no relationship with age was reported. Finally, no correlation between humoral and cellular immune response was observed. Overall, a high prevalence of HD and HIV patients showing cross reactive immunity against two H3N2v strains was observed, with a slightly lower proportion in HIV persons. Other studies focused on HIV subjects at different stages of diseases are needed in order to define how cross immunity can be affected by advanced immunosuppression.
PMCID: PMC4146513  PMID: 25162670
6.  Multiplex Evaluation of Influenza Neutralizing Antibodies with Potential Applicability to In-Field Serological Studies 
Journal of Immunology Research  2014;2014:457932.
The increased number of outbreaks of H5 and H7 LPAI and HPAI viruses in poultry has major public and animal health implications. The continuous rapid evolution of these subtypes and the emergence of new variants influence the ability to undertake effective surveillance. Retroviral pseudotypes bearing influenza haemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase (NA) envelope glycoproteins represent a flexible platform for sensitive, readily standardized influenza serological assays. We describe a multiplex assay for the study of neutralizing antibodies that are directed against both influenza H5 and H7 HA. This assay permits the measurement of neutralizing antibody responses against two antigenically distinct HAs in the same serum/plasma sample thus increasing the amount and quality of serological data that can be acquired from valuable sera. Sera obtained from chickens vaccinated with a monovalent H5N2 vaccine, chickens vaccinated with a bivalent H7N1/H5N9 vaccine, or turkeys naturally infected with an H7N3 virus were evaluated in this assay and the results correlated strongly with data obtained by HI assay. We show that pseudotypes are highly stable under basic cold-chain storage conditions and following multiple rounds of freeze-thaw. We propose that this robust assay may have practical utility for in-field serosurveillance and vaccine studies in resource-limited regions worldwide.
PMCID: PMC4101955  PMID: 25101305
7.  In vitro study of the replication capacity of the RGNNV and the SJNNV betanodavirus genotypes and their natural reassortants in response to temperature 
Veterinary Research  2014;45(1):56.
Betanodaviruses are the causative agents of viral nervous necrosis and affect a broad range of fish species worldwide. Their bi-segmented genome is composed of the RNA1 and the RNA2 molecules encoding the viral polymerase and the coat protein, respectively. In southern Europe the presence of the RGNNV and the SJNNV genotypes, and the RGNNV/SJNNV and RGNNV/SJNNV reassortants has been documented. Several studies have reported a correlation between water temperature and disease onset. To explore the replication efficiency of betanodaviruses with different genomes in relation to temperature and to understand the role of genetic reassortment on viral phenotype, RGNNV, SJNNV, RGNNV/SJNNV and RGNNV/SJNNV field isolates were fully sequenced, and growth curves generated in vitro at four different temperatures (15, 20, 25, 30 °C) were developed for each isolate. The data obtained, corroborated by statistical analysis, demonstrated that viral titres of diverse betanodavirus genotypes varied significantly in relation to the incubation temperature of the culture. In particular, at 30 °C betanodaviruses under investigation presented different phenotypes, and viruses containing the RNA1 of the RGNNV genotype showed the best replication efficiency. Laboratory results demonstrated that viruses clustering within the same genotype based on the polymerase gene, possess similar growth kinetics in response to temperature, thus highlighting the key role of RNA1 in controlling viral replication at different environmental conditions. The results generated might have practical implications for the inference of viral phenotype according to genetic features and may contribute to a better understanding of betanodavirus ecology.
PMCID: PMC4050099  PMID: 24885997
8.  Reassortant Avian Influenza A(H5N1) Viruses with H9N2-PB1 Gene in Poultry, Bangladesh 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2013;19(10):1630-1634.
Bangladesh has reported a high number of outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) (H5N1) in poultry. We identified a natural reassortant HPAI (H5N1) virus containing a H9N2-PB1 gene in poultry in Bangladesh. Our findings highlight the risks for prolonged co-circulation of avian influenza viruses and the need to monitor their evolution.
PMCID: PMC3811991  PMID: 24047513
Highly pathogenic avian influenza virus H5N1; Bangladesh; phylogenetic analysis; reassortment; viruses; influenza; influenza (H5N1); avian influenza; HPAI; H9N2-PB1; H9N2; reassortant; avian influenza A(H5N1); genes; zoonoses
9.  Comparative Serological Assays for the Study of H5 and H7 Avian Influenza Viruses 
The nature of influenza virus to randomly mutate and evolve into new types is an important challenge in the control of influenza infection. It is necessary to monitor virus evolution for a better understanding of the pandemic risk posed by certain variants as evidenced by the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) viruses. This has been clearly recognized in Egypt following the notification of the first HPAI H5N1 outbreak. The continuous circulation of the virus and the mass vaccination programme undertaken in poultry have resulted in a progressive genetic evolution and a significant antigenic drift near the major antigenic sites. In order to establish if vaccination is sufficient to provide significant intra- and interclade cross-protection, lentiviral pseudotypes derived from H5N1 HPAI viruses (A/Vietnam/1194/04, A/chicken/Egypt-1709-01/2007) and an antigenic drift variant (A/chicken/Egypt-1709-06-2008) were constructed and used in pseudotype-based neutralization assays (pp-NT). pp-NT data obtained was confirmed and correlated with HI and MN assays. A panel of pseudotypes belonging to influenza Groups 1 and 2, with a combination of reporter systems, was also employed for testing avian sera in order to support further application of pp-NT as an alternative valid assay that can improve avian vaccination efficacy testing, vaccine virus selection, and the reliability of reference sera.
PMCID: PMC3791816  PMID: 24163763
10.  Influenza A Viruses Grow in Human Pancreatic Cells and Cause Pancreatitis and Diabetes in an Animal Model 
Journal of Virology  2013;87(1):597-610.
Influenza A viruses commonly cause pancreatitis in naturally and experimentally infected animals. In this study, we report the results of in vivo investigations carried out to establish whether influenza virus infection could cause metabolic disorders linked to pancreatic infection. In addition, in vitro tests in human pancreatic islets and in human pancreatic cell lines were performed to evaluate viral growth and cell damage. Infection of an avian model with two low-pathogenicity avian influenza isolates caused pancreatic damage resulting in hyperlipasemia in over 50% of subjects, which evolved into hyperglycemia and subsequently diabetes. Histopathology of the pancreas showed signs of an acute infection resulting in severe fibrosis and disruption of the structure of the organ. Influenza virus nucleoprotein was detected by immunohistochemistry (IHC) in the acinar tissue. Human seasonal H1N1 and H3N2 viruses and avian H7N1 and H7N3 influenza virus isolates were able to infect a selection of human pancreatic cell lines. Human viruses were also shown to be able to infect human pancreatic islets. In situ hybridization assays indicated that viral nucleoprotein could be detected in beta cells. The cytokine activation profile indicated a significant increase of MIG/CXCL9, IP-10/CXCL10, RANTES/CCL5, MIP1b/CCL4, Groa/CXCL1, interleukin 8 (IL-8)/CXCL8, tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α), and IL-6. Our findings indicate that influenza virus infection may play a role as a causative agent of pancreatitis and diabetes in humans and other mammals.
PMCID: PMC3536404  PMID: 23097451
11.  Pandemic A/H1N1/2009 influenza virus in Swine, Cameroon, 2010 
Veterinary Microbiology  2011;156(1-2):189-192.
Although swine origin A/H1N1/2009 influenza virus (hereafter “pH1N1”) has been detected in swine in 20 countries, there has been no published surveillance of the virus in African livestock. The objective of this study was to assess the circulation of influenza A viruses, including pH1N1 in swine in Cameroon, Central Africa. We collected 108 nasal swabs and 98 sera samples from domestic pigs randomly sampled at 11 herds in villages and farms in Cameroon. pH1N1 was isolated from two swine sampled in northern Cameroon in January 2010. Sera from 28% of these herds were positive for influenza A by competitive ELISA and 92.6% of these swine showed cross reactivity with pandemic A/H1N1/2009 influenza virus isolated from humans. These results provide the first evidence of this virus in the animal population in Africa. In light of the significant role of swine in the ecology of influenza viruses, our results call for greater monitoring and study in Central Africa.
PMCID: PMC3251638  PMID: 21963416
swine influenza virus; pandemic A/H1N1/2009 influenza virus; Cameroon; Central Africa; agriculture; zoonotic diseases
12.  Rabies and Canine Distemper Virus Epidemics in the Red Fox Population of Northern Italy (2006–2010) 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(4):e61588.
Since 2006 the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) population in north-eastern Italy has experienced an epidemic of canine distemper virus (CDV). Additionally, in 2008, after a thirteen-year absence from Italy, fox rabies was re-introduced in the Udine province at the national border with Slovenia. Disease intervention strategies are being developed and implemented to control rabies in this area and minimise risk to human health. Here we present empirical data and the epidemiological picture relating to these epidemics in the period 2006–2010. Of important significance for epidemiological studies of wild animals, basic mathematical models are developed to exploit information collected from the surveillance program on dead and/or living animals in order to assess the incidence of infection. These models are also used to estimate the rate of transmission of both diseases and the rate of vaccination, while correcting for a bias in early collection of CDV samples. We found that the rate of rabies transmission was roughly twice that of CDV, with an estimated effective contact between infected and susceptible fox leading to a new infection occurring once every 3 days for rabies, and once a week for CDV. We also inferred that during the early stage of the CDV epidemic, a bias in the monitoring protocol resulted in a positive sample being almost 10 times more likely to be collected than a negative sample. We estimated the rate of intake of oral vaccine at 0.006 per day, allowing us to estimate that roughly 68% of the foxes would be immunised. This was confirmed by field observations. Finally we discuss the implications for the eco-epidemiological dynamics of both epidemics in relation to control measures.
PMCID: PMC3632604  PMID: 23630599
13.  Viral Encephalopathy and Retinopathy in groupers (Epinephelus spp.) in southern Italy: a threat for wild endangered species? 
Betanodaviruses are the causative agents of Viral Encephalopathy and Retinopathy (VER). To date, more than 50 species have proved to be susceptible and among them, those found in genus Epinephelus are highly represented. Clinical disease outbreaks are generally characterized by typical nervous signs and significant mortalities mainly associated with aquaculture activities, although some concerns for the impact of this infection in wild fish have been raised. In this study, the authors present the first documented report describing an outbreak of VER in wild species in the Mediterranean basin.
Case presentation
In late summer - early winter 2011 (September-December), significant mortalities affecting wild Dusky grouper (Epinephelus marginatus), Golden grouper (Epinephelus costae) and European sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax) were reported in the municipality of Santa Maria di Leuca (Northern Ionian Sea, Italy). The affected fish showed an abnormal swimming behavior and swollen abdomens. During this epizootic, five moribund fish showing clear neurological signs were captured and underwent laboratory investigations. Analytical results confirmed the diagnosis of VER in all the specimens. Genetic characterization classified all betanodavirus isolates as belonging to the RGNNV genotype, revealing a close genetic relationship with viral sequences obtained from diseased farmed fish reared in the same area in previous years.
The close relationship of the viral sequences between the isolates collected in wild affected fish and those isolated during clinical disease outbreaks in farmed fish in the same area in previous years suggests a persistent circulation of betanodaviruses and transmission between wild and farmed stocks. Further investigations are necessary to assess the risk of viral transmission between wild and farmed fish populations, particularly in marine protected areas where endangered species are present.
PMCID: PMC3566913  PMID: 23351980
Viral Encephalopathy and Retinopathy; Betanodavirus; Neurological signs; Wild fish; Epinephelus spp.
14.  The human Transmembrane Protease Serine 2 is necessary for the production of Group 2 influenza A virus pseudotypes 
The monomer of influenza haemagglutinin is synthesized as a single polypeptide precursor that during maturation is cleaved by proteases into two active subunits. Other studies have demonstrated that the human Transmembrane Protease Serine 2 (TMPRSS2) can cleave the HA of human seasonal influenza viruses. Consequently, we have investigated the use of human Transmembrane Protease Serine 2 to produce high titre influenza haemmagglutinin (HA) lentiviral pseudotypes from Group 2 influenza viruses. Such pseudotypes represent powerful and safe tools to study viral entry and immune responses. Influenza pseudotype particles are obtained by co-transfecting human embryonic kidney HEK293T/17 cells using plasmids coding for the influenza HA, HIV gag-pol and a lentiviral vector incorporating firefly luciferase. However, in order to produce Group 2 pseudotypes, it was necessary to co-transfect a plasmid expressing the TMPRSS2 endoprotease, to achieve the necessary HA cleavage for infective particle generation. These lentiviral pseudotypes were shown to transduce HEK293T/17 cells with high efficiency. This demonstrates that TMPRSS2 is necessary for the functional activation, in vitro, of both the HA of human seasonal influenza and other Group 2 HA influenza strains. Additionally, we show that the Group 2 influenza pseudotype particles can be used as surrogate antigens in neutralization assays and are efficiently neutralized by corresponding influenza virus reference sera. These data demonstrate that the viral pseudotype system is a powerful method for serological surveillance of a wide range of influenza viruses.
PMCID: PMC3614188  PMID: 23577043
Haemagglutinin; protease cleavage; antibody response; pseudotype serology
15.  The production and development of H7 Influenza virus pseudotypes for the study of humoral responses against avian viruses 
In recent years, high pathogenicity avian influenza (HPAI) virus, H5N1, low pathogenicity avian influenza (LPAI) virus, H9N2, and both HPAI and LPAI H7 viruses have proved devastating for the affected economies reliant on poultry industry, and have posed serious public health concerns. These viruses have repeatedly caused zoonotic disease in humans, raising concerns of a potential influenza pandemic. Despite the focus on the HPAI H5N1 outbreak in 1997 some H7 strains have also shown to be occasionally adaptable to infecting humans. Therefore, applying knowledge of the H5 virus evolution and spread to the development of sensitive serological methods is likely to improve our ability to understand and respond to the emergence of other HPAI and LPAI viruses, present within the avian populations, with the potential to infect humans and other species. In the present study we describe the construction and production of lentiviral pseudotypes bearing envelope glycoproteins of LPAI and HPAI H7 avian influenza viruses, which have been responsible for several outbreaks in the past decade. The H7 pseudotypes were evaluated in pseudotype-based neutralization (pp-NT) assays in order to detect and quantify the presence of neutralizing antibodies in avian sera, which were confirmed H7 positive by inhibition of haemagglutination (HI) test. Overall, our results substantiate influenza virus pseudotype neutralization as a robust tool for influenza sero-surveillance.
PMCID: PMC3614187  PMID: 23577044
HPAI; H7 lentiviral pseudotype; LPAI; micro-neutralization; pandemic potential
16.  Receptor-Binding Profiles of H7 Subtype Influenza Viruses in Different Host Species 
Journal of Virology  2012;86(8):4370-4379.
Influenza viruses of gallinaceous poultry and wild aquatic birds usually have distinguishable receptor-binding properties. Here we used a panel of synthetic sialylglycopolymers and solid-phase receptor-binding assays to characterize receptor-binding profiles of about 70 H7 influenza viruses isolated from aquatic birds, land-based poultry, and horses in Eurasia and America. Unlike typical duck influenza viruses with non-H7 hemagglutinin (HA), all avian H7 influenza viruses, irrespective of the host species, displayed a poultry-virus-like binding specificity, i.e., preferential binding to sulfated oligosaccharides Neu5Acα2-3Galβ1-4(6-O-HSO3)GlcNAc and Neu5Acα2-3Galβ1-4(Fucα1-3)(6-O-HSO3)GlcNAc. This phenotype correlated with the unique amino acid sequence of the amino acid 185 to 189 loop of H7 HA and seemed to be dependent on ionic interactions between the sulfate group of the receptor and Lys193 and on the lack of sterical clashes between the fucose residue and Gln222. Many North American and Eurasian H7 influenza viruses displayed weak but detectable binding to the human-type receptor moiety Neu5Acα2-6Galβ1-4GlcNAc, highlighting the potential of H7 influenza viruses for avian-to-human transmission. Equine H7 influenza viruses differed from other viruses by preferential binding to the N-glycolyl form of sialic acid. Our data suggest that the receptor-binding site of contemporary H7 influenza viruses in aquatic and terrestrial birds was formed after the introduction of their common precursor from ducks to a new host, presumably, gallinaceous poultry. The uniformity of the receptor-binding profile of H7 influenza viruses in various wild and domestic birds indicates that there is no strong receptor-mediated host range restriction in birds on viruses with this HA subtype. This notion agrees with repeated interspecies transmission of H7 influenza viruses from aquatic birds to poultry.
PMCID: PMC3318648  PMID: 22345462
17.  Investigating Avian Influenza Infection Hotspots in Old-World Shorebirds 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(9):e46049.
Heterogeneity in the transmission rates of pathogens across hosts or environments may produce disease hotspots, which are defined as specific sites, times or species associations in which the infection rate is consistently elevated. Hotspots for avian influenza virus (AIV) in wild birds are largely unstudied and poorly understood. A striking feature is the existence of a unique but consistent AIV hotspot in shorebirds (Charadriiformes) associated with a single species at a specific location and time (ruddy turnstone Arenaria interpres at Delaware Bay, USA, in May). This unique case, though a valuable reference, limits our capacity to explore and understand the general properties of AIV hotspots in shorebirds. Unfortunately, relatively few shorebirds have been sampled outside Delaware Bay and they belong to only a few shorebird families; there also has been a lack of consistent oropharyngeal sampling as a complement to cloacal sampling. In this study we looked for AIV hotspots associated with other shorebird species and/or with some of the larger congregation sites of shorebirds in the old world. We assembled and analysed a regionally extensive dataset of AIV prevalence from 69 shorebird species sampled in 25 countries across Africa and Western Eurasia. Despite this diverse and extensive coverage we did not detect any new shorebird AIV hotspots. Neither large shorebird congregation sites nor the ruddy turnstone were consistently associated with AIV hotspots. We did, however, find a low but widespread circulation of AIV in shorebirds that contrast with the absence of AIV previously reported in shorebirds in Europe. A very high AIV antibody prevalence coupled to a low infection rate was found in both first-year and adult birds of two migratory sandpiper species, suggesting the potential existence of an AIV hotspot along their migratory flyway that is yet to be discovered.
PMCID: PMC3460932  PMID: 23029383
18.  Occurrence and identification of risk areas of Ixodes ricinus-borne pathogens: a cost-effectiveness analysis in north-eastern Italy 
Parasites & Vectors  2012;5:61.
Ixodes ricinus, a competent vector of several pathogens, is the tick species most frequently reported to bite humans in Europe. The majority of human cases of Lyme borreliosis (LB) and tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) occur in the north-eastern region of Italy. The aims of this study were to detect the occurrence of endemic and emergent pathogens in north-eastern Italy using adult tick screening, and to identify areas at risk of pathogen transmission. Based on our results, different strategies for tick collection and pathogen screening and their relative costs were evaluated and discussed.
From 2006 to 2008 adult ticks were collected in 31 sites and molecularly screened for the detection of pathogens previously reported in the same area (i.e., LB agents, TBE virus, Anaplasma phagocytophilum, Rickettsia spp., Babesia spp., "Candidatus Neoehrlichia mikurensis"). Based on the results of this survey, three sampling strategies were evaluated a-posteriori, and the impact of each strategy on the final results and the overall cost reductions were analyzed. The strategies were as follows: tick collection throughout the year and testing of female ticks only (strategy A); collection from April to June and testing of all adult ticks (strategy B); collection from April to June and testing of female ticks only (strategy C).
Eleven pathogens were detected in 77 out of 193 ticks collected in 14 sites. The most common microorganisms detected were Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato (17.6%), Rickettsia helvetica (13.1%), and "Ca. N. mikurensis" (10.5%). Within the B. burgdorferi complex, four genotypes (i.e., B. valaisiana, B. garinii, B. afzelii, and B. burgdorferi sensu stricto) were found. Less prevalent pathogens included R. monacensis (3.7%), TBE virus (2.1%), A. phagocytophilum (1.5%), Bartonella spp. (1%), and Babesia EU1 (0.5%). Co-infections by more than one pathogen were diagnosed in 22% of infected ticks. The prevalences of infection assessed using the three alternative strategies were in accordance with the initial results, with 13, 11, and 10 out of 14 sites showing occurrence of at least one pathogen, respectively. The strategies A, B, and C proposed herein would allow to reduce the original costs of sampling and laboratory analyses by one third, half, and two thirds, respectively. Strategy B was demonstrated to represent the most cost-effective choice, offering a substantial reduction of costs, as well as reliable results.
Monitoring of tick-borne diseases is expensive, particularly in areas where several zoonotic pathogens co-occur. Cost-effectiveness studies can support the choice of the best monitoring strategy, which should take into account the ecology of the area under investigation, as well as the available budget.
PMCID: PMC3337281  PMID: 22452970
Ixodes ricinus; tick-borne diseases; surveillance; economic evaluation; Italy.
19.  Antigenic Drift in H5N1 Avian Influenza Virus in Poultry Is Driven by Mutations in Major Antigenic Sites of the Hemagglutinin Molecule Analogous to Those for Human Influenza Virus▿† 
Journal of Virology  2011;85(17):8718-8724.
H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza virus has been endemic in poultry in Egypt since 2008, notwithstanding the implementation of mass vaccination and culling of infected birds. Extensive circulation of the virus has resulted in a progressive genetic evolution and an antigenic drift. In poultry, the occurrence of antigenic drift in avian influenza viruses is less well documented and the mechanisms remain to be clarified. To test the hypothesis that H5N1 antigenic drift is driven by mechanisms similar to type A influenza viruses in humans, we generated reassortant viruses, by reverse genetics, that harbored molecular changes identified in genetically divergent viruses circulating in the vaccinated population. Parental and reassortant phenotype viruses were antigenically analyzed by hemagglutination inhibition (HI) test and microneutralization (MN) assay. The results of the study indicate that the antigenic drift of H5N1 in poultry is driven by multiple mutations primarily occurring in major antigenic sites at the receptor binding subdomain, similarly to what has been described for human influenza H1 and H3 subtype viruses.
PMCID: PMC3165837  PMID: 21734057
20.  Phylogeography and Evolutionary History of Reassortant H9N2 Viruses with Potential Human Health Implications ▿ †  
Journal of Virology  2011;85(16):8413-8421.
Avian influenza viruses of the H9N2 subtype have seriously affected the poultry industry of the Far and Middle East since the mid-1990s and are considered one of the most likely candidates to cause a new influenza pandemic in humans. To understand the genesis and epidemiology of these viruses, we investigated the spatial and evolutionary dynamics of complete genome sequences of H9N2 viruses circulating in nine Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries from 1998 to 2010. We identified four distinct and cocirculating groups (A, B, C, and D), each of which has undergone widespread inter- and intrasubtype reassortments, leading to the generation of viruses with unknown biological properties. Our analysis also suggested that eastern Asia served as the major source for H9N2 gene segments in the Middle East and Central Asia and that in this geographic region within-country evolution played a more important role in shaping viral genetic diversity than migration between countries. The genetic variability identified among the H9N2 viruses was associated with specific amino acid substitutions that are believed to result in increased transmissibility in mammals, as well as resistance to antiviral drugs. Our study highlights the need to constantly monitor the evolution of H9N2 viruses in poultry to better understand the potential risk to human health posed by these viruses.
PMCID: PMC3147996  PMID: 21680519
21.  The mouse model is suitable for the study of viral factors governing transmission and pathogenesis of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) viruses in mammals 
Veterinary Research  2010;41(5):66.
Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) viruses of the H5 and H7 subtype pose a major public health threat due to their capacity to cross the species barrier and infect mammals, for example dogs, cats and humans. In the present study we tested the capacity of selected H7 and H5 HPAI viruses to infect and to be transmitted from infected BALB/c mice to contact sentinels. Previous experiments have shown that viruses belonging to both H5 and H7 subtypes replicate in the respiratory tract and central nervous system of experimentally infected mice. In this study we show that selected H7N1 and H5N1 HPAI viruses can be transmitted from mouse-to-mouse by direct contact, and that in experimentally infected animals they exhibit a different pattern of replication and transmission. Our results can be considered as a starting point for transmission experiments involving other influenza A viruses with α 2-3 receptor affinity in order to better understand the viral factors influencing transmissibility of these viruses in selected mammalian species.
PMCID: PMC2908239  PMID: 20546698
highly pathogenic avian influenza virus; mouse; transmission; H7; H5
22.  Intracellular Distribution of NS1 Correlates with the Infectivity and Interferon Antagonism of an Avian Influenza Virus (H7N1) ▿  
Journal of Virology  2010;84(22):11858-11865.
Highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses of subtype H7N1 that emerged during an outbreak in 1999 and 2000 in Italy differ from their low-pathogenicity precursor viruses by changes in several genes, including three mutations in the NS1 protein. Two of them involve amino acid exchanges located within or closely adjacent to the nuclear export signal of NS1. The third mutation resulted in a new stop codon and thereby a C-terminal truncation of the NS1 protein of the highly pathogenic viruses. To find out whether these mutations contribute to the phenotypic differences between the highly pathogenic and low pathogenic viruses, we generated recombinants of the highly pathogenic A/ostrich/Italy/984/00 strain that contained the nuclear export signal and/or the extended C terminus of NS1 of a low pathogenic virus (A/chicken/Italy/1082/99). Using these recombinants we could demonstrate that replication rate and spread of infection in chicken fibroblast cultures, as well as infectivity for chicken embryos is reduced, whereas the mean death time for chicken embryos is increased, when the highly pathogenic virus acquires the NS1 motifs of the low pathogenic virus. Analysis of beta interferon transcription in chicken fibroblasts infected with the recombinants revealed that the mutations observed in the nuclear export signal of the highly pathogenic viruses were responsible for the enhanced interferon antagonism of these viruses. Cell fractionation and immunofluorescence studies in chicken fibroblasts showed that the nuclear export signal of the highly pathogenic viruses is responsible for cytoplasmic accumulation of NS1, whereas the C-terminal truncation promotes transport into the nucleoli. Comparative analysis in human A549 cells indicated that intracellular distribution of NS1 is host specific. Taken together, these observations support the concept that compartmentalization of NS1 within the cell contributes to the pathogenicity of avian influenza viruses.
PMCID: PMC2977857  PMID: 20844052
23.  Lyssavirus Detection and Typing Using Pyrosequencing▿#‖ 
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2011;49(5):1932-1938.
Rabies is a fatal zoonosis caused by a nonsegmented negative-strand RNA virus, namely, rabies virus (RABV). Apart from RABV, at least 10 additional species are known as rabies-related lyssaviruses (RRVs), and some of them are responsible for occasional spillovers into humans. More lyssaviruses have also been detected recently in different bat ecosystems, thanks to the application of molecular diagnostic methods. Due to the variety of the members of the genus Lyssavirus, there is the necessity to develop a reliable molecular assay for rabies diagnosis able to detect and differentiate among the existing rabies and rabies-related viruses. In the present study, a pyrosequencing protocol targeting the 3′ terminus of the nucleoprotein (N) gene was applied for the rapid characterization of lyssaviruses. Correct identification of species was achieved for each sample tested. Results from the pyrosequencing assay were also confirmed by those obtained using the Sanger sequencing method. A pan-lyssavirus one-step reverse transcription (RT)-PCR was developed within the framework of the pyrosequencing procedure. The sensitivity (Se) of the one-step RT-PCR assay was determined by using in vitro-transcribed RNA and serial dilutions of titrated viruses. The assay demonstrated high analytical and relative specificity (Sp) (98.94%) and sensitivity (99.71%). To date, this is the first case in which pyrosequencing has been applied for lyssavirus identification using a cheaper diagnostic approach than the one for all the other protocols for rapid typing that we are acquainted with. Results from this study indicate that this procedure is suitable for lyssavirus detection in samples of both human and animal origin.
PMCID: PMC3122702  PMID: 21389152
24.  Evolutionary Dynamics of Multiple Sublineages of H5N1 Influenza Viruses in Nigeria from 2006 to 2008 ▿ †  
Journal of Virology  2010;84(7):3239-3247.
Highly pathogenic A/H5N1 avian influenza (HPAI H5N1) viruses have seriously affected the Nigerian poultry industry since early 2006. Previous studies have identified multiple introductions of the virus into Nigeria and several reassortment events between cocirculating lineages. To determine the spatial, evolutionary, and population dynamics of the multiple H5N1 lineages cocirculating in Nigeria, we conducted a phylogenetic analysis of whole-genome sequences from 106 HPAI H5N1 viruses isolated between 2006 and 2008 and representing all 25 Nigerian states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) reporting outbreaks. We identified a major new subclade in Nigeria that is phylogenetically distinguishable from all previously identified sublineages, as well as two novel reassortment events. A detailed analysis of viral phylogeography identified two major source populations for the HPAI H5N1 virus in Nigeria, one in a major commercial poultry area (southwest region) and one in northern Nigeria, where contact between wild birds and backyard poultry is frequent. These findings suggested that migratory birds from Eastern Europe or Russia may serve an important role in the introduction of HPAI H5N1 viruses into Nigeria, although virus spread through the movement of poultry and poultry products cannot be excluded. Our study provides new insight into the genesis and evolution of H5N1 influenza viruses in Nigeria and has important implications for targeting surveillance efforts to rapidly identify the spread of the virus into and within Nigeria.
PMCID: PMC2838112  PMID: 20071565
25.  One Flu for One Health 
PMCID: PMC3321965  PMID: 20350399
Influenza; genetics; viruses; zoonoses; globalization; global health; One Health; expedited; letter

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