July 2 | 2013

Adaptive mutations in the H5N1 polymerase complex

Authors | Gülsah Gabriel, Volker Czudai-Matwich, Hans-Dieter Klenk

Abstract | Adaptation of the viral polymerase to host factors plays an important role in interspecies transmission of H5N1 viruses. Several adaptive mutations have been identified that, in general, determine not only host range, but also pathogenicity and transmissibility of the virus. The available evidence indicates that most of these mutations are found in the PB2 subunit of the polymerase. Particularly prominent mutations are located in the C-terminal domain of PB2 involving the amino acid exchanges E627K and D701N. Both mutations, that are also responsible for the adaptation of other avian viruses to mammalian hosts, have been described in human H5N1 isolates. In animal models, it could be demonstrated that they enhance pathogenicity in mice and induce contact transmission in guinea pigs. Mutation E627K has also been identified as a determinant of air-borne H5N1 transmission in ferrets. We are only beginning to understand the underlying mechanisms at the molecular level. Thus, mutation D701N promotes importin-α mediated nuclear transport in mammalian cells. Mutation E627K also enhances the replication rate in an importin-α dependent fashion in mammalian cells, yet without affecting nuclear entry of PB2. Numerous other adaptive mutations, some of which compensate for the lack of PB2 E627K, have been observed in PB2 as well as in the polymerase subunit PB1, the nucleoprotein NP, and the nuclear export protein NEP (NS2).

Virus Research, 1 June 2013.