Send to

Choose Destination
J Virol. 2015 Nov;89(21):10724-34. doi: 10.1128/JVI.01238-15. Epub 2015 Aug 5.

Hemagglutinin-Neuraminidase Balance Influences the Virulence Phenotype of a Recombinant H5N3 Influenza A Virus Possessing a Polybasic HA0 Cleavage Site.

Author information

Canadian Food Inspection Agency, National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut, Federal Research Institute for Animal Health, Greifswald-Insel Riems, Germany.
Canadian Food Inspection Agency, National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
Public Health Agency of Canada, National Microbiology Laboratory, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
Canadian Food Inspection Agency, National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada


Although a polybasic HA0 cleavage site is considered the dominant virulence determinant for highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5 and H7 viruses, naturally occurring virus isolates possessing a polybasic HA0 cleavage site have been identified that are low pathogenic in chickens. In this study, we generated a reassortant H5N3 virus that possessed the hemagglutinin (HA) gene from H5N1 HPAI A/swan/Germany/R65/2006 and the remaining gene segments from low pathogenic A/chicken/British Columbia/CN0006/2004 (H7N3). Despite possessing the HA0 cleavage site GERRRKKR/GLF, this rH5N3 virus exhibited a low pathogenic phenotype in chickens. Although rH5N3-inoculated birds replicated and shed virus and seroconverted, transmission to naive contacts did not occur. To determine whether this virus could evolve into a HPAI form, it underwent six serial passages in chickens. A progressive increase in virulence was observed with the virus from passage number six being highly transmissible. Whole-genome sequencing demonstrated the fixation of 12 nonsynonymous mutations involving all eight gene segments during passaging. One of these involved the catalytic site of the neuraminidase (NA; R293K) and is associated with decreased neuraminidase activity and resistance to oseltamivir. Although introducing the R293K mutation into the original low-pathogenicity rH5N3 increased its virulence, transmission to naive contact birds was inefficient, suggesting that one or more of the remaining changes that had accumulated in the passage number six virus also play an important role in transmissibility. Our findings show that the functional linkage and balance between HA and NA proteins contributes to expression of the HPAI phenotype.


To date, the contribution that hemagglutinin-neuraminidase balance can have on the expression of a highly pathogenic avian influenza virus phenotype has not been thoroughly examined. Reassortment, which can result in new hemagglutinin-neuraminidase combinations, may have unpredictable effects on virulence and transmission characteristics of a virus. Our data show the importance of the neuraminidase in complementing a polybasic HA0 cleavage site. Furthermore, it demonstrates that adaptive changes selected for during the course of virus evolution can result in unexpected traits such as antiviral drug resistance.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for HighWire Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center