H9N2 virus-derived M1 protein promotes H5N6 virus release in mammalian cells: Mechanism of avian influenza virus inter-species infection in humans

H5N6 highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAIV) clade not only exhibits unprecedented intercontinental spread in poultry, but can also cause serious infection in humans, posing a public health threat. Phylogenetic analyses show that 40% (8/20) of H5N6 viruses that infected humans carried H9N2 virus-derived internal genes. However, the precise contribution of H9N2 virus-derived internal genes to H5N6 virus infection in humans is unclear. Here, we report on the functional contribution of the H9N2 virus-derived matrix protein 1 (M1) to enhanced H5N6 virus replication capacity in mammalian cells. Unlike H5N1 virus-derived M1 protein, H9N2 virus-derived M1 protein showed high binding affinity for H5N6 hemagglutinin (HA) protein and increased viral progeny particle release in different mammalian cell lines. Human host factor, G protein subunit beta 1 (GNB1), exhibited strong binding to H9N2 virus-derived M1 protein to facilitate M1 transport to budding sites at the cell membrane. GNB1 knockdown inhibited the interaction between H9N2 virus-derived M1 and HA protein, and reduced influenza virus-like particles (VLPs) release. Our findings indicate that H9N2 virus-derived M1 protein promotes avian H5N6 influenza virus release from mammalian, in particular human cells, which could be a major viral factor for H5N6 virus cross-species infection.