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Virol J. 2009 Nov 16;6:198. doi: 10.1186/1743-422X-6-198.

Evidence for a novel gene associated with human influenza A viruses.

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Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, V8W 3P6, Canada.



Influenza A virus genomes are comprised of 8 negative strand single-stranded RNA segments and are thought to encode 11 proteins, which are all translated from mRNAs complementary to the genomic strands. Although human, swine and avian influenza A viruses are very similar, cross-species infections are usually limited. However, antigenic differences are considerable and when viruses become established in a different host or if novel viruses are created by re-assortment devastating pandemics may arise.


Examination of influenza A virus genomes from the early 20th Century revealed the association of a 167 codon ORF encoded by the genomic strand of segment 8 with human isolates. Close to the timing of the 1948 pseudopandemic, a mutation occurred that resulted in the extension of this ORF to 216 codons. Since 1948, this ORF has been almost totally maintained in human influenza A viruses suggesting a selectable biological function. The discovery of cytotoxic T cells responding to an epitope encoded by this ORF suggests that it is translated into protein. Evidence of several other non-traditionally translated polypeptides in influenza A virus support the translation of this genomic strand ORF. The gene product is predicted to have a signal sequence and two transmembrane domains.


We hypothesize that the genomic strand of segment 8 of encodes a novel influenza A virus protein. The persistence and conservation of this genomic strand ORF for almost a century in human influenza A viruses provides strong evidence that it is translated into a polypeptide that enhances viral fitness in the human host. This has important consequences for the interpretation of experiments that utilize mutations in the NS1 and NEP genes of segment 8 and also for the consideration of events that may alter the spread and/or pathogenesis of swine and avian influenza A viruses in the human population.

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