Influenza viruses vary markedly in their efficiency of human-to-human transmission. This variation has been speculated to be determined in part by the tropism of influenza virus for the human upper respiratory tract. To study this tropism, we determined the pattern of virus attachment by virus histochemistry of three human and three avian influenza viruses in human nasal septum, conchae, nasopharynx, paranasal sinuses, and larynx. We found that the human influenza viruses - two seasonal influenza viruses and pandemic H1N1 virus - attached abundantly to ciliated epithelial cells and goblet cells throughout the upper respiratory tract. In contrast, the avian influenza viruses, including the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus, attached only rarely to epithelial cells or goblet cells. Both human and avian viruses attached occasionally to cells of the submucosal glands. The pattern of virus attachment was similar among the different sites of the human upper respiratory tract for each virus tested. We conclude that influenza viruses that are transmitted efficiently among humans attach abundantly to human upper respiratory tract, whereas inefficiently transmitted influenza viruses attach rarely. These results suggest that the ability of an influenza virus to attach to human upper respiratory tract is a critical factor for efficient transmission in the human population.

dx.doi.org/10.2353/ajpath.2010.090949, hdl.handle.net/1765/66542
American Journal of Pathology
Department of Pathology

van Riel, D.A.J, den Bakker, M.A, Leijten, L.M.E, Chutinimitkul, S, Munster, V.J, de Wit, E, … Kuiken, T. (2010). Seasonal and pandemic human influenza viruses attach better to human upper respiratory tract epithelium than avian influenza viruses. American Journal of Pathology, 176(4), 1614–1618. doi:10.2353/ajpath.2010.090949