An Airborne Transmissible Avian Influenza H5 Hemagglutinin Seen at the Atomic Level

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Science  21 Jun 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6139, pp. 1463-1467
DOI: 10.1126/science.1236787

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Influencing Influenza

Currently, there is anxiety that the avian H5N1 influenza virus will reassort with the highly transmissible and epidemic H1N1 subtype to trigger a virulent human pandemic. Y. Zhang et al. (p. 1459, published online 2 May) used reverse genetics to make all possible reassortants between a virulent bird H5N1 with genes from a human pandemic H1N1. Virulence was tested in mice and transmissibility was tested between guinea pigs, which have both avian- and human-like airway influenza virus receptors. To assess what is happening to the receptor-ligand interactions as a result of these mutations, W. Zhang et al. (p. 1463, published online 2 May) probed the structure of both wild-type and mutant hemagglutinin of H5 in complex with analogs of the avian and human receptor types. Certain mutations in the receptor-binding site changed binding affinity.


Recent studies have identified several mutations in the hemagglutinin (HA) protein that allow the highly pathogenic avian H5N1 influenza A virus to transmit between mammals by airborne route. Here, we determined the complex structures of wild-type and mutant HAs derived from an Indonesia H5N1 virus bound to either avian or human receptor sialic acid analogs. A cis/trans conformational change in the glycosidic linkage of the receptor analog was observed, which explains how the H5N1 virus alters its receptor-binding preference. Furthermore, the mutant HA possessed low affinities for both avian and human receptors. Our findings provide a structural and biophysical basis for the H5N1 adaptation to acquire human, but maintain avian, receptor-binding properties.

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