Emergence and genetic variation of neuraminidase stalk deletions in avian influenza viruses

Jinling Li, Heinrich Zu Dohna, Carol J. Cardona, Joy Miller, Tim E. Carpenter

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81 Scopus citations


When avian influenza viruses (AIVs) are transmitted from their reservoir hosts (wild waterfowl and shorebirds) to domestic bird species, they undergo genetic changes that have been linked to higher virulence and broader host range. Common genetic AIV modifications in viral proteins of poultry isolates are deletions in the stalk region of the neuraminidase (NA) and additions of glycosylation sites on the hemagglutinin (HA). Even though these NA deletion mutations occur in several AIV subtypes, they have not been analyzed comprehensively. In this study, 4,920 NA nucleotide sequences, 5,596 HA nucleotide and 4,702 HA amino acid sequences were analyzed to elucidate the widespread emergence of NA stalk deletions in gallinaceous hosts, the genetic polymorphism of the deletion patterns and association between the stalk deletions in NA and amino acid variants in HA. Forty-seven different NA stalk deletion patterns were identified in six NA subtypes, N1-N3 and N5-N7. An analysis that controlled for phylogenetic dependence due to shared ancestry showed that NA stalk deletions are statistically correlated with gallinaceous hosts and certain amino acid features on the HA protein. Those HA features included five glycosylation sites, one insertion and one deletion. The correlations between NA stalk deletions and HA features are HA-NA-subtype-specific. Our results demonstrate that stalk deletions in the NA proteins of AIV are relatively common. Understanding the NA stalk deletion and related HA features may be important for vaccine and drug development and could be useful in establishing effective early detection and warning systems for the poultry industry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere14722
JournalPloS one
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2011


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