Avian influenza A viruses, such as the highly pathogenic avian H5N1 viruses, sporadically enter the human population but often do not transmit between individuals. In rare cases, however, they establish a new lineage in humans. In addition to well-characterized barriers to cell entry, one major hurdle which avian viruses must overcome is their poor polymerase activity in human cells. There is compelling evidence that these viruses overcome this obstacle by acquiring adaptive mutations in the polymerase subunits PB1, PB2, and PA and the nucleoprotein (NP) as well as in the novel polymerase cofactor nuclear export protein (NEP). Recent findings suggest that synthesis of the viral genome may represent the major defect of avian polymerases in human cells. While the precise mechanisms remain to be unveiled, it appears that a broad spectrum of polymerase adaptive mutations can act collectively to overcome this defect. Thus, identification and monitoring of emerging adaptive mutations that further increase polymerase activity in human cells are critical to estimate the pandemic potential of avian viruses.

doi.org/10.1128/JVI.00980-13, hdl.handle.net/1765/72007
Journal of Virology
Department of Virology

Mänz, B., Schwemmle, M., & Brunotte, L. (2013). Adaptation of avian influenza a virus polymerase in mammals to overcome the host species barrier. Journal of Virology, 87(13), 7200–7209. doi:10.1128/JVI.00980-13