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J Virol. 1999 Feb;73(2):1146-55.

The surface glycoproteins of H5 influenza viruses isolated from humans, chickens, and wild aquatic birds have distinguishable properties.

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Department of Virology and Molecular Biology, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Memphis, Tennessee 38105, USA.


In 1997, 18 confirmed cases of human influenza arising from multiple independent transmissions of H5N1 viruses from infected chickens were reported from Hong Kong. To identify possible phenotypic changes in the hemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase (NA) of the H5 viruses during interspecies transfer, we compared the receptor-binding properties and NA activities of the human and chicken H5N1 isolates from Hong Kong and of H5N3 and H5N1 viruses from wild aquatic birds. All H5N1 viruses, including the human isolate bound to Sia2-3Gal-containing receptors but not to Sia2-6Gal-containing receptors. This finding formally demonstrates for the first time that receptor specificity of avian influenza viruses may not restrict initial avian-to-human transmission. The H5N1 chicken viruses differed from H5 viruses of wild aquatic birds by a 19-amino-acid deletion in the stalk of the NA and the presence of a carbohydrate at the globular head of the HA. We found that a deletion in the NA decreased its ability to release the virus from cells, whereas carbohydrate at the HA head decreased the affinity of the virus for cell receptors. Comparison of amino acid sequences from GenBank of the HAs and NAs from different avian species revealed that additional glycosylation of the HA and a shortened NA stalk are characteristic features of the H5 and H7 chicken viruses. This finding indicates that changes in both HA and NA may be required for the adaptation of influenza viruses from wild aquatic birds to domestic chickens and raises the possibility that chickens may be a possible intermediate host in zoonotic transmission.

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