The multibasic cleavage site of the hemagglutinin of highly pathogenic A/Vietnam/1203/2004 (H5N1) avian influenza virus acts as a virulence factor in a host-specific manner in mammals.

Laboratory of Infectious Diseases, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, USA.
Journal of Virology (Impact Factor: 4.65). 12/2011; 86(5):2706-14. DOI: 10.1128/JVI.05546-11
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) viruses of the H5 and H7 subtypes typically possess multiple basic amino acids around the cleavage site (MBS) of their hemagglutinin (HA) protein, a recognized virulence motif in poultry. To determine the importance of the H5 HA MBS as a virulence factor in mammals, recombinant wild-type HPAI A/Vietnam/1203/2004 (H5N1) viruses that possessed (H5N1) or lacked (ΔH5N1) the H5 HA MBS were generated and evaluated for their virulence in BALB/c mice, ferrets, and African green monkeys (AGMs) (Chlorocebus aethiops). The presence of the H5 HA MBS was associated with lethality, significantly higher virus titers in the respiratory tract, virus dissemination to extrapulmonary organs, lymphopenia, significantly elevated levels of proinflammatory cytokines and chemokines, and inflammation in the lungs of mice and ferrets. In AGMs, neither H5N1 nor ΔH5N1 virus was lethal and neither caused clinical symptoms. The H5 HA MBS was associated with mild enhancement of replication and delayed virus clearance. Thus, the contribution of H5 HA MBS to the virulence of the HPAI H5N1 virus varies among mammalian hosts and is most significant in mice and ferrets and less remarkable in nonhuman primates.

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