Yan W, Cui H, Engelsma M, Beerens N, van Oers MM,. Molecular and Antigenic Characterization of Avian H9N2 Viruses in Southern China. Microbiol Spectr. 2022 Jan 12:e0082221
The H9N2 subtype avian influenza virus (AIV) has become endemic in poultry globally; however due to its low pathogenicity, it is not under primary surveillance and control in many countries. Recent reports of human infection caused by H9N2 AIV has increased public concern. This study investigated the genetic and antigenic characteristics of H9N2 AIV isolated from local markets in nine provinces in Southern China from 2013 to 2018. We detected an increasing annual isolation rate of H9N2 AIV. Phylogenetic analyses of hemagglutinin (HA) genes suggests that isolated strains were rooted in BJ94 lineage but have evolved into new subgroups (II and III), which derived from subgroup I. The estimated substitution rate of the subgroup III strains was 6.23 × 10-3 substitutions/site/year, which was 1.5-fold faster than that of the average H9N2 HA rate (3.95 × 10-3 substitutions/site/year). Based on the antigenic distances, subgroup II and III strains resulted in two clear antigenic clusters 2 and 3, separated from the vaccine strain F98, cluster 1. New antigenic properties of subgroup III viruses were associated with 11 amino acid changes in the HA protein, suggesting antigenic drift in H9N2 viruses. Our phylogenetic and antigenic analyses of the H9N2 strains circulating in local markets in Southern China provide new insights on the antigenic diversification of H9N2 viruses. IMPORTANCE The H9N2 low pathogenicity avian influenza (LPAI) virus has become endemic in poultry globally. In several Asian countries, vaccination against H9N2 avian influenza virus (AIV) was approved to reduce economic losses in the poultry industry. However, surveillance programs initiated after the introduction of vaccination identified the persistence of H9N2 AIV in poultry (especially in chicken in South Korea and China). Recent reports of human infection caused by H9N2 AIV has increased public concern. Surveillance of H9N2 circulating in poultry in the fields or markets was essential to update the vaccination strategies. This study investigated the genetic and antigenic characteristics of H9N2 AIVs isolated from local markets in nine provinces in Southern China from 2013 to 2018. The discovery of mutations in the hemagglutinin (HA) gene that result in antigenic changes provides a baseline reference for evolutionary studies of H9N2 viruses and vaccination strategies in poultry.
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