SUMOylation of matrix protein M1 and filamentous morphology collectively contribute to the replication and virulence of highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza viruses in mammals

The matrix protein (M1) of influenza A virus plays an important role in replication, assembly, and budding. A previous study found that aspartic acid (D) at position 30 and alanine (A) at position 215 of M1 contribute to the high pathogenicity of H5N1 viruses in mice, and double mutations of D to asparagine (N) at position 30 (D30N) and A to threonine (T) at position 215 (A215T) in M1 dramatically attenuate H5N1 viruses in mice. However, the underlying mechanisms by which these M1 mutations attenuate the virulence of H5N1 viruses are unknown. Here, we found that the amino acid mutation A215T eliminates the SUMOylation of M1 by reducing its interaction with the host SUMO1 protein, significantly reducing the stability of M1, slowing the export of the M1-vRNP complex from the nucleus to the cytoplasm, and reducing viral replication in MDCK cells. We further found that the D30N mutation in M1 alters the shape of progeny viruses from filamentous to spherical virions. Our findings reveal an essential role for M1 215A SUMOylation and M1 30D-related filamentous morphology in the pathogenesis of avian influenza viruses, which could be targeted in novel antiviral drug designs. Importance Identification of the pathogenic mechanism of highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses in mammals is helpful to develop novel anti-influenza virus strategies. Two amino acid mutations (D30N and A215T) in M1 were found to collectively attenuate H5N1 influenza viruses in mice, but the underlying mechanism remained unknown. This study found that the A215T mutation significantly decreases the SUMOylation of M1, which in turn attenuates the replication of H5N1 virus in mammalian cells. The D30N mutation in M1 was found to change the virion shape from filamentous to spherical. These findings are important for understanding the molecular mechanism of virulence of highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses in mammals.