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Multiple Gene Segments Are Associated with Enhanced Virulence of Clade H5N8 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Virus in Mallards.

ABSTRACT: Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) viruses from the H5Nx Goose/Guangdong/96 lineage continue to cause outbreaks in domestic and wild bird populations. Two distinct genetic groups of H5N8 HPAI viruses, hemagglutinin (HA) clades and, caused intercontinental outbreaks in 2014 to 2015 and 2016 to 2017, respectively. Experimental infections using viruses from these outbreaks demonstrated a marked difference in virulence in mallards, with the H5N8 virus from 2014 causing mild clinical disease and the 2016 H5N8 virus causing high mortality. To assess which gene segments are associated with enhanced virulence of H5N8 HPAI viruses in mallards, we generated reassortant viruses with 2014 and 2016 viruses. For single-segment reassortants in the genetic backbone of the 2016 virus, pathogenesis experiments in mallards revealed that morbidity and mortality were reduced for all eight single-segment reassortants compared to the parental 2016 virus, with significant reductions in mortality observed with the polymerase basic protein 2 (PB2), nucleoprotein (NP), and matrix (M) reassortants. No differences in morbidity and mortality were observed with reassortants that either have the polymerase complex segments or the HA and neuraminidase (NA) segments of the 2016 virus in the genetic backbone of the 2014 virus. In vitro assays showed that the NP and polymerase acidic (PA) segments of the 2014 virus lowered polymerase activity when combined with the polymerase complex segments of the 2016 virus. Furthermore, the M segment of the 2016 H5N8 virus was linked to filamentous virion morphology. Phylogenetic analyses demonstrated that gene segments related to the more virulent 2016 H5N8 virus have persisted in the contemporary H5Nx HPAI gene pool until 2020. IMPORTANCE Outbreaks of H5Nx HPAI viruses from the goose/Guangdong/96 lineage continue to occur in many countries and have resulted in substantial impact on wild birds and poultry. Epidemiological evidence has shown that wild waterfowl play a major role in the spread of these viruses. While HPAI virus infection in gallinaceous species causes high mortality, a wide range of disease outcomes has been observed in waterfowl species. In this study, we examined which gene segments contribute to severe disease in mallards infected with H5N8 HPAI viruses. No virus gene was solely responsible for attenuating the high virulence of a 2016 H5N8 virus, but the PB2, NP, and M segments significantly reduced mortality. The findings herein advance our knowledge on the pathobiology of avian influenza viruses in waterfowl and have potential implications on the ecology and epidemiology of H5Nx HPAI in wild bird populations.

PROVIDER: S-EPMC8387042 | BioStudies |

REPOSITORIES: biostudies

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