Arai Y, Kawashita N, Elgendy EM, Ibrahim MS, Daido. PA mutations inherited during viral evolution act cooperatively to increase replication of contemporary H5N1 influenza virus with an expanded host range. J Virol. 2020 Oct 7:JVI.01582-20
Adaptive mutations and/or reassortments in avian influenza virus polymerase subunits PA, PB1 and PB2 are one of the major factors enabling the virus to overcome the species barrier to infect humans. The majority of human-adaptation polymerase mutations have been identified in PB2: fewer adaptation mutations have been characterized in PA and PB1. Clade 2.2.1 avian influenza viruses (H5N1) are unique to Egypt and generally carry the human-adaptation PB2-E627K substitution during their dissemination in nature. In this study, we identified other human-adaptation polymerase mutations by analyzing phylogeny-associated PA mutations that H5N1 clade 2.2.1 viruses have accumulated during their evolution in the field. This analysis identified several PA mutations that produced increased replication by contemporary clade 22.214.171.124 viruses in vitro in human cells and in vivo in mice compared to ancestral clade 2.2.1 viruses. The PA mutations acted cooperatively to increase viral polymerase activity and replication both in avian and human cells, with the effect more prominent in human cells at 33°C than at 37°C. These results indicated that PA mutations have a role in establishing contemporary clade 126.96.36.199 virus infections in poultry and in adaptation to infect mammals. Our study provided data on the mechanism for PA mutations to accumulate during avian influenza virus evolution and extend the viral host range.IMPORTANCE Clade 2.2.1 avian influenza viruses (H5N1) are unique to Egypt and have caused the highest number of human H5N1 influenza cases worldwide, presenting a serious global public health threat. These viruses may have the greatest evolutionary potential for adaptation from avian hosts to human hosts. Using a comprehensive phylogenetic approach, we identified several novel clade 2.2.1 virus polymerase mutations that increased viral replication in vitro in human cells and in vivo in mice. These mutations were in the polymerase PA subunit and acted cooperatively with the E627K mutation in the PB2 polymerase subunit to provide higher replication in contemporary clade 188.8.131.52 viruses than in ancestral clade 2.2.1 viruses. These data indicated that ongoing clade 2.2.1 dissemination in the field has driven PA mutations to modify viral replication to enable host range expansion, with higher public health risk for humans.
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