Highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses have poly-basic amino acid sequences at the cleavage site in their hemagglutinin (HA). Although this poly-basic region is a prerequisite factor for pathogenicity in chickens, not much is known about additional factors responsible for the acquisition of pathogenicity of the duck influenza virus in chickens. Here, we introduced multiple basic amino acid residues into the HA cleavage site of the A/duck/Hokkaido/Vac-2/2004 (H7N7) strain of avian influenza virus, which has low pathogenicity in chickens; the resultant Vac2sub-P0 strain was not intravenously pathogenic in chickens. In contrast, the Vac2sub-P3 strain, which was recovered from three consecutive passages of Vac2sub-P0 in chicks, was intravenously pathogenic in chickens. Six amino acid substitutions were identified by comparison of the Vac2sub-P3 and Vac2sub-P0 genomic sequences: Lys123Glu in PB2, Asn16Asp in PB1, Glu227Gly and Ile388Thr in HA, Gly228Arg in M1, and Leu46Pro in M2. The results of intravenous inoculations of chickens with recombinant virus indicated that all six amino acid substitutions were required to varying degrees for Vac2sub-P3 pathogenicity, with Glu227Gly and Ile388Thr in HA being particularly essential. These results reveal the roles of additional viral factors in the acquisition of pathogenicity in addition to the previously characterized role of the poly-basic amino acid sequences at the HA cleavage site.
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