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Euro Surveill. 2015;20(45). doi: 10.2807/1560-7917.ES.2015.20.45.30060.

Zanamivir-resistant influenza viruses with Q136K or Q136R neuraminidase residue mutations can arise during MDCK cell culture creating challenges for antiviral susceptibility monitoring.

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WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.


Surveillance of circulating influenza strains for antiviral susceptibility is important to ensure patient treatment guidelines remain appropriate. Influenza A(H3N2) and A(H1N1)pdm09 virus isolates containing mutations at the Q136 residue of the neuraminidase (NA) that conferred reduced susceptibility to the NA inhibitor (NAI) zanamivir were detected during antiviral susceptibility monitoring. Interestingly, the mutations were not detectable in the viruses from respective clinical specimens, only in the cultured isolates. We showed that variant viruses containing the Q136K and Q136R NA mutations were preferentially selected in Madin-Darby canine kidney epithelial (MDCK) cells, but were less well supported in MDCK-SIAT1 cells and embryonated eggs. The effect of Q136K, Q136R, Q136H and Q136L substitutions in NA subtypes N1 and N2 on NAI susceptibility and in vitro viral fitness was assessed. This study highlights the challenges that cell culture derived mutations can pose to the NAI susceptibility analysis and interpretation and reaffirms the need to sequence viruses from respective clinical specimens to avoid misdiagnosis. However, we also demonstrate that NA mutations at residue Q136 can confer reduced zanamivir, peramivir or laninamivir susceptibility, and therefore close monitoring of viruses for mutations at this site from patients being treated with these antivirals is important.


antimicrobial resistance; cell culture derived mutations; influenza virus; laboratory surveillance; zanamivir resistance

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