Gong YN, et al. Population dynamics at neuraminidase position 151 of influenza A (H1N1)pdm09 virus in clinical specimens. J Gen Virol. 2019 Apr 17.
Influenza A virus mutates rapidly, allowing it to escape natural and vaccine-induced immunity. Neuraminidase (NA) is a surface protein capable of cleaving the glycosidic linkages of neuraminic acids to release newly formed virions from infected cells. Genetic variants within a viral population can influence the emergence of pandemic viruses as well as drug susceptibility and vaccine effectiveness. In the present study, 55 clinical specimens from patients infected with the 2009 pandemic influenza A/H1N1 virus, abbreviated as A(H1N1)pdm09, during the 2015-2016 outbreak season in Taiwan were collected. Whole genomes were obtained through next-generation sequencing. Based on the published sequences from A(H1N1)pdm09 strains worldwide, a mixed population of two distinct variants at NA position 151 was revealed. We initially reasoned that such a mixed population may have emerged during cell culture. However, additional investigations confirmed that these mixed variants were detectable in the specimens of patients. To further investigate the role of the two NA-151 variants in a dynamic population, a reverse genetics system was employed to generate recombinant A(H1N1)pdm09 viruses. It was observed that the mixture of the two distinct variants was characterized by a higher replication rate compared to the recombinant viruses harbouring a single variant. Moreover, an NA inhibition assay revealed that a high frequency of the minor NA-151 variant in A(H1N1)pdm09 was associated with a reduced susceptibility to NA inhibitors. We conclude that two distinct NA-151 variants can be identified in patient specimens and that such variants may increase viral replication and NA activity.
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