Laporte M, et al. Hemagglutinin cleavability, acid-stability and temperature dependence optimize influenza B virus for replication in human airways. J Virol. 2019 Oct 9. pii: JVI.01430-19.
Influenza A virus (IAV) and influenza B virus (IBV) cause yearly epidemics with significant morbidity and mortality. When zoonotic IAVs enter the human population, the viral hemagglutinin (HA) requires adaptation to achieve sustained virus transmission. In contrast, IBV has been circulating in humans, its only host, for a long period of time. Whether this entailed adaptation of IBV HA to the human airways is unknown. To address this question, we compared two seasonal IAV (A/H1N1 and A/H3N2) and two IBV viruses (B/Victoria and B/Yamagata lineage) with regard to host-dependent activity of HA as the mediator of membrane fusion during viral entry. We first investigated proteolytic activation of HA, by covering all type II transmembrane serine protease (TTSP) and kallikrein enzymes, many of which proved present in human respiratory epithelium. Compared to IAV, the IBV HA0 precursor is cleaved by a broader panel of TTSPs and activated with much higher efficiency. Accordingly, knockdown of a single protease, TMPRSS2, abrogated spread of IAV but not IBV in human respiratory epithelial cells. Second, the HA fusion pH proved similar for IBV and human-adapted IAVs (one exception being HA of 1918 IAV). Third, IBV HA exhibited higher expression at 33°C, a temperature required for membrane fusion by B/Victoria HA. This indicates pronounced adaptation of IBV HA to the mildly acidic pH and cooler temperature of human upper airways. These distinct and intrinsic features of IBV HA are compatible with extensive host-adaptation during prolonged circulation of this respiratory virus in the human population.IMPORTANCE Influenza epidemics are caused by influenza A (IAV) and influenza B (IBV) viruses. IBV causes substantial disease, however it is far less studied than IAV. While IAV originates from animal reservoirs, IBV circulates in humans only. Virus spread requires that the viral hemagglutinin (HA) is active and sufficiently stable in human airways. We here resolve how these mechanisms differ between IBV and IAV. Whereas human IAVs rely on one particular protease for HA activation, this is not the case for IBV. Superior activation of IBV by several proteases should enhance shedding of infectious particles. IBV HA exhibits acid-stability and a preference for 33°C, indicating pronounced adaptation to the human upper airways, where the pH is mildly acidic and a cooler temperature exists. These adaptive features are rationalized by the long existence of IBV in humans, and may have broader relevance for understanding the biology and evolution of respiratory viruses.
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