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J Gen Virol. 2012 Apr;93(Pt 4):840-9. doi: 10.1099/vir.0.039966-0. Epub 2011 Dec 21.

Behaviour of influenza A viruses differentially expressing segment 2 gene products in vitro and in vivo.

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  • 1Biomedical Sciences Research Complex, School of Biology, University of St Andrews, North Haugh, St Andrews, Fife KY16 9ST, Scotland, UK.


The influenza A virus genome comprises eight segments of negative-sense RNA that encode up to 12 proteins. RNA segment 2 encodes three proteins, PB1, PB1-F2 and N40, that are translated from the same mRNA by ribosomal leaky scanning and reinitiation. PB1 is a subunit of the trimeric viral RNA polymerase. PB1-F2 has been reported to be a potential virulence factor, and has been shown to be involved in a number of activities including induction of apoptosis, regulation of virus replication and modulation of the immune response. No function has yet been ascribed to N40, which represents an N-terminally deleted form of PB1. Previous studies on PB1-F2 function mainly used viruses genetically engineered to prevent PB1-F2 expression by mutation of the PB1-F2 start codon. However, ablation of the start codon was shown to increase the expression level of the downstream protein N40. In the present study, we generated recombinant A/WSN/33 viruses carrying different combinations of PB1-F2- and N40-knockout mutations. Overexpression of N40 in a PB1-F2-deficient background had a detrimental effect on virus growth in vitro and in vivo. However, ablation of PB1-F2 or N40 expression individually was not disadvantageous for the virus. Primer-extension analyses revealed an increase in vRNA production by viruses that overexpressed N40. Our data suggest that the observed attenuation of mutant viruses in vitro and in vivo results from these changes in transcription and replication.

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