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Abstract

Between 2013 and 2017, the A/Anhui/1/13-lineage (H7N9) low-pathogenicity avian influenza virus (LPAIV) was epizootic in chickens in China, causing mild disease, with 616 fatal human cases. Despite poultry vaccination, H7N9 has not been eradicated. Previously, we demonstrated increased pathogenesis in turkeys infected with H7N9, correlating with the emergence of the L217Q (L226Q H3 numbering) polymorphism in the haemagglutinin (HA) protein. A Q217-containing virus also arose and is now dominant in China following vaccination. We compared infection and transmission of this Q217-containing ‘turkey-adapted’ (ty-ad) isolate alongside the H7N9 (L217) () virus in different poultry species and investigated the zoonotic potential in the ferret model. Both and ty-ad viruses demonstrated similar shedding and transmission in turkeys and chickens. However, the ty-ad virus was significantly more pathogenic than the virus in turkeys but not in chickens, causing 100 and 33% mortality in turkeys respectively. Expanded tissue tropism was seen for the ty-ad virus in turkeys but not in chickens, yet the viral cell receptor distribution was broadly similar in the visceral organs of both species. The ty-ad virus required exogenous trypsin for replication yet had increased replication in primary avian cells. Replication was comparable in mammalian cells, and the ty-ad virus replicated successfully in ferrets. The L217Q polymorphism also affected antigenicity. Therefore, H7N9 infection in turkeys can generate novel variants with increased risk through altered pathogenicity and potential HA antigenic escape. These findings emphasize the requirement for enhanced surveillance and understanding of A/Anhui/1/13-lineage viruses and their risk to different species.

Funding
This study was supported by the:
  • Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, UK Government (Award SE2213)
    • Principle Award Recipient: AshleyC. Banyard
  • Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, UK Government (Award SE2211)
    • Principle Award Recipient: SharonM. Brookes
  • Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, UK Government (Award SE2206)
    • Principle Award Recipient: SharonM. Brookes
  • This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License. This article was made open access via a Publish and Read agreement between the Microbiology Society and the corresponding author’s institution.
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2024-07-09
2024-07-24
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