The collaborative study, conducted by a group led by Masato Tashiro of the Influenza Virus Research Center, National Institute of Infectious Diseases, and Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Tokyo, appears in the current edition (April 11, 2013) of the journal Eurosurveillance.
Access to the genetic information in the viruses, he adds, is necessary for understanding how the virus is evolving and for developing a candidate vaccine to prevent infection.
Influenza virus depends on its ability to attach to and commandeer the living cells of its host to replicate and spread efficiently. Avian influenza rarely infects humans, but can sometimes adapt to people, posing a significant risk to human health.
“These viruses possess several characteristic features of mammalian influenza viruses, which likely contribute to their ability to infect humans and raise concerns regarding their pandemic potential,” Kawaoka and his colleagues conclude in the Eurosurveillance report.
Kawaoka, a faculty member in the UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine who also holds a faculty appointment at the University of Tokyo, explains that the majority of the viruses in the study — from both humans and birds — display mutations in the surface protein hemagglutinin, which the pathogen uses to bind to host cells. Those mutations, according to Kawaoka, allowed them to easily infect human cells.
In addition, the isolates from patients contained another mutation that allows the virus to efficiently replicate inside human cells. The same mutation, Kawaoka notes, lets the avian virus thrive in the cooler temperatures of the human upper respiratory system. It is in the cells of the nose and throat that flu typically gains a hold in a mammalian or human host.
Kawaoka and his colleagues also assessed the response of the new strain to drugs used to treat influenza, discovering that one class of commonly used antiviral drugs, ion channel inhibitors which effectively bottle up the virus in the cell, would not be effective; the new strain could be treated with another clinically relevant antiviral drug, oseltamivir.
—Terry Devitt, 608-262-8282, firstname.lastname@example.org
In addition to Kawaoka and Tashiro, co-authors of the Eurosurveillance report include Tsutomu Kageyama, Seiichiro Fujisaki, Emi Takashita, Hong Xu, Shinya Yamada, Yuko Uchida, Gabriele Neumann and Takehiko Saito. The work was supported by Grants-in-Aid for Pandemic Influenza Research and Grant-in-Aid for Specially Promoted Research from the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, Japan; by the NIAID Center for Research on Influenza Pathogenesis (CRIP, HHSN266200700010C); by a Grant-in-Aid for Specially Promoted Research, by the Japan Initiative for Global Research Network on Infectious Diseases from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology, Japan; and by ERATO, Japan.
Terry Devitt | Newswise
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