Analysis of Recombinant H7N9 Wild-Type and Mutant Viruses in Pigs Shows That the Q226L Mutation in HA Is Important for Transmission.
Journal of Virology. 2014 Jul 15; 88: 8153-65.
The fact that there have been more than 300 human infections with a novel avian H7N9 virus in China indicates that this emerging strain has pandemic potential. Furthermore, many of the H7N9 viruses circulating in animal reservoirs contain putative mammalian signatures in the HA and PB2 genes that are believed to be important in the adaptation of other avian strains to humans. To date, the definitive roles of these mammalian-signature substitutions in transmission and pathogenesis of H7N9 viruses remain unclear. To address this we analyzed the biological characteristics, pathogenicity, and transmissibility of A/Anhui/1/2013 (H7N9) virus and variants in vitro and in vivo using a synthetically created wild-type virus (rAnhui-WT) and two mutants (rAnhui-HA-226Q and rAnhui-PB2-627E). All three viruses replicated in lungs of intratracheally inoculated pigs, yet nasal shedding was limited. The rAnhui-WT and rAnhui-PB2-627E viruses were transmitted to contact animals. In contrast, the rAnhui-HA-226Q virus was not transmitted to sentinel pigs. Deep sequencing of viruses from the lungs of infected pigs identified substitutions arising in the viral population (e.g., PB2-T271A, PB2-D701N, HA-V195I, and PB2-E627K reversion) that may enhance viral replication in pigs. Collectively, the results demonstrate that critical mutations (i.e., HA-Q226L) enable the H7N9 viruses to be transmitted in a mammalian host and suggest that the myriad H7N9 genotypes circulating in avian species in China and closely related strains (e.g., H7N7) have the potential for further adaptation to human or other mammalian hosts (e.g., pigs), leading to strains capable of sustained human-to-human transmission.