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Virol J. 2010 Dec 9;7:365. doi: 10.1186/1743-422X-7-365.

Characterization of influenza virus sialic acid receptors in minor poultry species.

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Department of Veterinary Medicine, University of Maryland College Park, and Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, 8075 Greenmead Drive, College Park, MD 20742, USA.


It is commonly accepted that avian influenza viruses (AIVs) bind to terminal α2,3 sialic acid (SA) residues whereas human influenza viruses bind to α2,6 SA residues. By a series of amino acid changes on the HA surface protein, AIVs can switch receptor specificity and recognize α2,6 SA positive cells, including human respiratory epithelial cells. Animal species, like pigs and Japanese quail, that contain both α2,3 and α2,6 SA become ideal environments for receptor switching. Here, we describe the SA patterns and distributions in 6 common minor domestic poultry species: Peking duck, Toulouse geese, Chinese ring-neck pheasant, white midget turkey, bobwhite quail, and pearl guinea fowl. Lectins specific to α2,3 and α2,6 SA (Maakia amurensis agglutinin and Sambuca nigra agglutinin, respectively) were used to detect SA by an alkaline phosphotase-based method and a fluorescent-based method. Differences in SA moieties and their ability to bind influenza viruses were visualized by fluorescent labeling of 4 different H3N2 influenza viruses known to be specific for one receptor or the other. The geese and ducks showed α2,3 SA throughout the respiratory tract and marginal α2,6 SA only in the colon. The four other avian species showed both α2,3 and α2,6 SA in the respiratory tract and the intestines. Furthermore, the turkey respiratory tract showed a positive correlation between age and α2,6 SA levels. The fact that these birds have both avian and human flu receptors, combined with their common presence in backyard farms and live bird markets worldwide, mark them as potential mixing bowl species and necessitates improved surveillance and additional research about the role of these birds in influenza host switching.

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