Genetic variation contributes to host responses and outcomes following infection by influenza A virus or other viral infections. Yet narrow windows of disease symptoms and confounding environmental factors have made it difficult to identify polymorphic genes that contribute to differential disease outcomes in human populations. Therefore, to control for these confounding environmental variables in a system that models the levels of genetic diversity found in outbred populations such as humans, we used incipient lines of the highly genetically diverse Collaborative Cross (CC) recombinant inbred (RI) panel (the pre-CC population) to study how genetic variation impacts influenza associated disease across a genetically diverse population. A wide range of variation in influenza disease related phenotypes including virus replication, virus-induced inflammation, and weight loss was observed. Many of the disease associated phenotypes were correlated, with viral replication and virus-induced inflammation being predictors of virus-induced weight loss. Despite these correlations, pre-CC mice with unique and novel disease phenotype combinations were observed. We also identified sets of transcripts (modules) that were correlated with aspects of disease. In order to identify how host genetic polymorphisms contribute to the observed variation in disease, we conducted quantitative trait loci (QTL) mapping. We identified several QTL contributing to specific aspects of the host response including virus-induced weight loss, titer, pulmonary edema, neutrophil recruitment to the airways, and transcriptional expression. Existing whole-genome sequence data was applied to identify high priority candidate genes within QTL regions. A key host response QTL was located at the site of the known anti-influenza Mx1 gene. We sequenced the coding regions of Mx1 in the eight CC founder strains, and identified a novel Mx1 allele that showed reduced ability to inhibit viral replication, while maintaining protection from weight loss.
Host responses to an infectious agent are highly variable across the human population, however, it is not entirely clear how various factors such as pathogen dose, demography, environment and host genetic polymorphisms contribute to variable host responses and infectious outcomes. In this study, a new in vivo experimental model was used that recapitulates many of the genetic characteristics of an outbred population, such as humans. By controlling viral dose, environment and demographic variables, we were able to focus on the role that host genetic variation plays in influenza virus infection. Both the range of disease phenotypes and the combinations of sets of disease phenotypes at 4 days post infection across this population exhibited a large amount of diversity, reminiscent of the variation seen across the human population. Multiple host genome regions were identified that contributed to different aspects of the host response to influenza infection. Taken together, these results emphasize the critical role of host genetics in the response to infectious diseases. Given the breadth of host responses seen within this population, several new models for unique host responses to infection were identified.