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PLoS Pathog. 2013;9(5):e1003392. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1003392. Epub 2013 May 30.

Activation of the NLRP3 inflammasome by IAV virulence protein PB1-F2 contributes to severe pathophysiology and disease.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, The University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, Australia.


The ability for a host to recognize infection is critical for virus clearance and often begins with induction of inflammation. The PB1-F2 of pathogenic influenza A viruses (IAV) contributes to the pathophysiology of infection, although the mechanism for this is unclear. The NLRP3-inflammasome has been implicated in IAV pathogenesis, but whether IAV virulence proteins can be activators of the complex is unknown. We investigated whether PB1-F2-mediated activation of the NLRP3-inflammasome is a mechanism contributing to overt inflammatory responses to IAV infection. We show PB1-F2 induces secretion of pyrogenic cytokine IL-1β by activating the NLRP3-inflammasome, contributing to inflammation triggered by pathogenic IAV. Compared to infection with wild-type virus, mice infected with reverse engineered PB1-F2-deficient IAV resulted in decreased IL-1β secretion and cellular recruitment to the airways. Moreover, mice exposed to PB1-F2 peptide derived from pathogenic IAV had enhanced IL-1β secretion compared to mice exposed to peptide derived from seasonal IAV. Implicating the NLRP3-inflammasome complex specifically, we show PB1-F2 derived from pathogenic IAV induced IL-1β secretion was Caspase-1-dependent in human PBMCs and NLRP3-dependent in mice. Importantly, we demonstrate PB1-F2 is incorporated into the phagolysosomal compartment, and upon acidification, induces ASC speck formation. We also show that high molecular weight aggregated PB1-F2, rather than soluble PB1-F2, induces IL-1β secretion. Furthermore, NLRP3-deficient mice exposed to PB1-F2 peptide or infected with PB1-F2 expressing IAV were unable to efficiently induce the robust inflammatory response as observed in wild-type mice. In addition to viral pore forming toxins, ion channel proteins and RNA, we demonstrate inducers of NLRP3-inflammasome activation may include disordered viral proteins, as exemplified by PB1-F2, acting as host pathogen 'danger' signals. Elucidating immunostimulatory PB1-F2 mediation of NLRP3-inflammasome activation is a major step forward in our understanding of the aetiology of disease attributable to exuberant inflammatory responses to IAV infection.

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