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J Virol. 2010 Oct;84(19):10016-25. doi: 10.1128/JVI.00239-10. Epub 2010 Jul 14.

TMPRSS2 and TMPRSS4 facilitate trypsin-independent spread of influenza virus in Caco-2 cells.

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  • 1Institute of Virology, Hannover Medical School, 30625 Hannover, Germany.


Proteolysis of influenza virus hemagglutinin by host cell proteases is essential for viral infectivity, but the proteases responsible are not well defined. Recently, we showed that engineered expression of the type II transmembrane serine proteases (TTSPs) TMPRSS2 and TMPRSS4 allows hemagglutinin (HA) cleavage. Here we analyzed whether TMPRSS2 and TMPRSS4 are expressed in influenza virus target cells and support viral spread in the absence of exogenously added protease (trypsin). We found that transient expression of TMPRSS2 and TMPRSS4 resulted in HA cleavage and trypsin-independent viral spread. Endogenous expression of TMPRSS2 and TMPRSS4 in cell lines correlated with the ability to support the spread of influenza virus in the absence of trypsin, indicating that these proteases might activate influenza virus in naturally permissive cells. Indeed, RNA interference (RNAi)-mediated knockdown of both TMPRSS2 and TMPRSS4 in Caco-2 cells, which released fully infectious virus without trypsin treatment, markedly reduced the spread of influenza virus, demonstrating that these proteases were responsible for efficient proteolytic activation of HA in this cell line. Finally, TMPRSS2 was found to be coexpressed with the major receptor determinant of human influenza viruses, 2,6-linked sialic acids, in human alveolar epithelium, indicating that viral target cells in the human respiratory tract express TMPRSS2. Collectively, our results point toward an important role for TMPRSS2 and possibly TMPRSS4 in influenza virus replication and highlight the former protease as a potential therapeutic target.

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