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mBio. 2014 Feb 4;5(1):e01102-13. doi: 10.1128/mBio.01102-13.

Transcriptomic characterization of the novel avian-origin influenza A (H7N9) virus: specific host response and responses intermediate between avian (H5N1 and H7N7) and human (H3N2) viruses and implications for treatment options.


A novel avian-origin H7N9 influenza A virus (IAV) emerged in China in 2013, causing mild to lethal human respiratory infections. H7N9 originated with multiple reassortment events between avian viruses and carries genetic markers of human adaptation. Determining whether H7N9 induces a host response closer to that with human or avian IAV is important in order to better characterize this emerging virus. Here we compared the human lung epithelial cell response to infection with A/Anhui/01/13 (H7N9) or highly pathogenic avian-origin H5N1, H7N7, or human seasonal H3N2 IAV. The transcriptomic response to H7N9 was highly specific to this strain but was more similar to the response to human H3N2 than to that to other avian IAVs. H7N9 and H3N2 both elicited responses related to eicosanoid signaling and chromatin modification, whereas H7N9 specifically induced genes regulating the cell cycle and transcription. Among avian IAVs, the response to H7N9 was closest to that elicited by H5N1 virus. Host responses common to H7N9 and the other avian viruses included the lack of induction of the antigen presentation pathway and reduced proinflammatory cytokine induction compared to that with H3N2. Repression of these responses could have an important impact on the immunogenicity and virulence of H7N9 in humans. Finally, using a genome-based drug repurposing approach, we identified several drugs predicted to regulate the host response to H7N9 that may act as potential antivirals, including several kinase inhibitors, as well as FDA-approved drugs, such as troglitazone and minocycline. Importantly, we validated that minocycline inhibited H7N9 replication in vitro, suggesting that our computational approach holds promise for identifying novel antivirals.


Whether H7N9 will be the next pandemic influenza virus or will persist and sporadically infect humans from its avian reservoir, similar to H5N1, is not known yet. High-throughput profiling of the host response to infection allows rapid characterization of virus-host interactions and generates many hypotheses that will accelerate understanding and responsiveness to this potential threat. We show that the cellular response to H7N9 virus is closer to that induced by H3N2 than to that induced by H5N1, reflecting the potential of this new virus for adaptation to humans. Importantly, dissecting the host response to H7N9 may guide host-directed antiviral development.

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