Triple-reassortant swine influenza viruses circulating in North American pigs contain the internal genes derived from swine (matrix, non-structural and nucleoprotein), human [polymerase basic 1 (PB1)] and avian (polymerase acidic and PB2) influenza viruses forming a constellation of genes that is well conserved and is called the triple-reassortant internal gene (TRIG) cassette. In contrast, the external genes [haemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase (NA)] are less conserved, reflecting multiple reassortant events that have produced viruses with different combinations of HA and NA genes. This study hypothesized that maintenance of the TRIG cassette confers a selective advantage to the virus. To test this hypothesis, pigs were co-infected with the triple-reassortant H3N2 A/Swine/Texas/4199-2/98 (Tx/98) and the classical H1N1 A/Swine/Iowa/15/1930 viruses and co-housed with a group of sentinel animals. This direct contact group was subsequently moved into contact with a second group of naïve animals. Four different subtypes (H1N1, H1N2, H3N1 and H3N2) of influenza virus were identified in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid collected from the lungs of the experimentally infected pigs, with most of the viruses containing TRIG from the Tx/98 virus. Interestingly, only the intact H3N2 Tx/98 virus was transmitted from the infected pigs to the direct-contact animals and from them to the second contact group of pigs. These results demonstrated that multiple reassortments can occur within a host; however, only specific gene constellations are readily transmissible. It was concluded that certain HA and NA gene pairs, in conjunction with the TRIG cassette, may have a competitive advantage over other combinations for transmission and maintenance in swine.


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