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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Jan 6;106(1):286-91. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0811052106. Epub 2008 Dec 30.

Changes in H5N1 influenza virus hemagglutinin receptor binding domain affect systemic spread.

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Division of Virology, Department of Infectious Diseases, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Memphis, TN 38105, USA.


The HA of influenza virus is a receptor-binding and fusion protein that is required to initiate infection. The HA receptor-binding domain determines the species of sialyl receptors recognized by influenza viruses. Here, we demonstrate that changes in the HA receptor-binding domain alter the ability of the H5N1 virus to spread systemically in mice. The A/Vietnam/1203/04 (VN1203) and A/Hong Kong/213/03 (HK213) viruses are consistently lethal to domestic chickens but differ in their pathogenicity to mammals. Insertion of the VN1203 HA and neuraminidase (NA) genes into recombinant HK213 virus expanded its tissue tropism and increased its lethality in mice; conversely, insertion of HK213 HA and NA genes into recombinant VN1203 virus decreased its systemic spread and lethality. The VN1203 and HK213 HAs differ by 10 aa, and HK213 HA has shown greater binding affinity for synthetic alpha2,6-linked sialyl receptor. Introduction of an S227N change and removal of N-linked glycosylation at residue 158 increased the alpha2,6-binding affinity of VN1203 HA. Recombinant VN1203 virus carrying the S227N change alone or with the residue-158 glycosylation site removed showed reduced lethality and systemic spread in mice but not in domestic chickens. Wild-type VN1203 virus exhibited the greatest efficiency in systemic spread after intramuscular inoculation and in infection of mouse bone marrow-derived dendritic cells and conventional pulmonary dendritic cells. These results show that VN1203 HA glycoprotein confers pathogenicity by facilitating systemic spread in mice; they also suggest that a minor change in receptor binding domain may modulate the virulence of H5N1 viruses.

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