Influenza virus infection of desialylated cells

Glycobiology. 2000 Jul;10(7):649-58. doi: 10.1093/glycob/10.7.649.


Sialic acid has long been considered to be the sole receptor for influenza virus. The viral hemagglutinin (HA) is known to bind cell surface sialic acid, and sialic acids on viral glyco-proteins are cleaved by the viral neuraminidase (NA) to promote efficient release of progeny virus particles. However, NWS-Mvi, a mutant virus completely lacking NA, grows well in MDCK cells continuously treated with exogenous neuraminidase (sialidase). Exogenous sialidase quantitatively releases all sialic acids from purified glycoproteins and glycolipids of MDCK cells and efficiently removes surface sialic acid from intact cells. Binding of NWS-Mvi and parent influenza viruses to MDCK cells is indistinguishable, and is only partially reduced by sialidase treatment of the cells. Both mutant and wild-type viruses enter enzymatically desialylated cells and initiate transcription. The ability of influenza A reassortant viruses to infect desialylated cells is shared by recent H3N2 clinical isolates, suggesting that this may be a general property of influenza A viruses. We propose that influenza virus infection can result from sialic acid-independent receptors, either directly or in a multistage process. When sialic acid is present, it may act to enhance virus binding to the cell surface to increase interaction with secondary receptors to mediate entry. Understanding virus entry will be critical to further efforts in infection control and prevention.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Membrane / drug effects
  • Influenza A virus / growth & development*
  • Influenza A virus / metabolism*
  • Neuraminidase / pharmacology
  • Receptors, Virus / metabolism*
  • Sialoglycoproteins / metabolism*


  • Receptors, Virus
  • Sialoglycoproteins
  • Neuraminidase