Previously we successful infected turkeys with the China-origin H7N9 low pathogenicity avian influenza virus (LPAIV, A/Anhui/1/13, referred to as ‘wild-type’ (Wt)) which successfully transmitted to contact turkeys with virulent outcomes, highly unusual for LPAIV infection, particularly as the LPAIV cleavage site remained unchanged in all experiments. Sequencing of progeny viruses revealed consistent emergence of the L226Q polymorphism in the HA gene, termed the ‘turkey-adapted’ (ty-ad) virus. Ty-ad and Wt were used to compare the epizootic risk posed by both H7N9 LPAIVs in turkeys and to explore the mechanisms which underpins any differences. The Wt and ty-ad viruses robustly infected inoculated and contact turkeys, producing similar shedding titres. However, the ty-ad virus was more pathogenic than the Wt virus in directly-infected and contact turkeys, causing 100 % (Wt) compared to 16 % (ty-ad) survival. The ty-ad virus was detected in broader range of turkey organs, and at higher titre, compared to the Wt variant. This contrasted with pathogenicity and tissue-tropism observations for both viruses in chickens. The wt and ty-ad viruses did not replicate without trypsin in vitro, affirming a typical LPAIV phenotype. The L226Q polymorphism is known to alter receptor binding, with key differences in receptor distribution between turkey and chicken tissues observed. Replication kinetics differences in a range of avian cells will be reported for both viruses. Consequently, if this ty-ad variant were to arise more frequently in nature, it would pose an increased virulent risk to turkeys. It is therefore important to maintain surveillance and understanding of China-origin H7N9 viruses.

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