Human noroviruses are the most common nonbacterial cause of gastroenteritis outbreaks, with new variants and genotypes frequently emerging. The origin of these new viruses is unknown; however, animals have been proposed as a potential source, as human noroviruses have been detected in animal species. Here, we investigated the potential of animals to serve as a reservoir of human noroviruses by testing norovirus attachment to formalin-fixed intestinal tissues of a range of potential reservoir animals. We set up a novel method to study norovirus binding using fluorescein isothiocyanate (FITC)-labeled virus-like particles (VLPs). In humans, noroviruses interact with histo-blood group antigens (HBGAs), carbohydrates that are expressed, among others, on the epithelial lining of the gastrointestinal tract. In animals, this interaction is not well understood. To test if virus binding depends on HBGAs, we characterized the HBGA phenotype in animal tissues by immunohistochemistry. With the exception of the black-headed gull and the straw-colored fruitbat, we observed the attachment of several human norovirus genotypes to the intestinal epithelium of all tested animal species. However, we did not find an association between the expression of a specific HBGA phenotype and virus-like particle (VLP) attachment. We show that selected human noroviruses can attach to small-intestinal tissues across species, supporting the hypothesis that human noroviruses can reside in an animal reservoir. However, whether this attachment can subsequently lead to infection needs to be further assessed.IMPORTANCE Noroviruses are a major cause of acute gastroenteritis in humans. New norovirus variants and recombinants (re)emerge regularly in the human population. From animal experiments and surveillance studies, it has become clear that at least seven animal models are susceptible to infection with human strains and that domesticated and wild animals shed human noroviruses in their feces. As virus attachment is an important first step for infection, we used a novel method utilizing FITC-labeled VLPs to test for norovirus attachment to intestinal tissues of potential animal hosts. We further characterized these tissues with regard to their HBGA expression, a well-studied norovirus susceptibility factor in humans. We found attachment of several human strains to a variety of animal species independent of their HBGA phenotype. This supports the hypothesis that human strains could reside in an animal reservoir.

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Journal of Virology
Department of Virology

Villabruna, N. (Nele), Schapendonk, C.M.E, Aron, G.I, Koopmans, M.P.G, D.V.M., & de Graaf, M. (2021). Human Noroviruses Attach to Intestinal Tissues of a Broad Range of Animal Species. Journal of Virology, 95(3). doi:10.1128/JVI.01492-20