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PLoS One. 2009 Jul 17;4(7):e6277. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0006277.

The special neuraminidase stalk-motif responsible for increased virulence and pathogenesis of H5N1 influenza A virus.

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State Key Laboratory of Agricultural Microbiology, College of Veterinary Medicine, Huazhong Agricultural University, Wuhan, the People's Republic of China.


The variation of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 virus results in gradually increased virulence in poultry, and human cases continue to accumulate. The neuraminidase (NA) stalk region of influenza virus varies considerably and may associate with its virulence. The NA stalk region of all N1 subtype influenza A viruses can be divided into six different stalk-motifs, H5N1/2004-like (NA-wt), WSN-like, H5N1/97-like, PR/8-like, H7N1/99-like and H5N1/96-like. The NA-wt is a special NA stalk-motif which was first observed in H5N1 influenza virus in 2000, with a 20-amino acid deletion in the 49(th) to 68(th) positions of the stalk region. Here we show that there is a gradual increase of the special NA stalk-motif in H5N1 isolates from 2000 to 2007, and notably, the special stalk-motif is observed in all 173 H5N1 human isolates from 2004 to 2007. The recombinant H5N1 virus with the special stalk-motif possesses the highest virulence and pathogenicity in chicken and mice, while the recombinant viruses with the other stalk-motifs display attenuated phenotype. This indicates that the special stalk-motif has contributed to the high virulence and pathogenicity of H5N1 isolates since 2000. The gradually increasing emergence of the special NA stalk-motif in H5N1 isolates, especially in human isolates, deserves attention by all.

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