Background: Influenza A viruses of domestic birds originate from the natural reservoir in aquatic birds as a result of interspecies transmission and adaptation to new host species. We previously noticed that influenza viruses isolated from distinct orders of aquatic and terrestrial birds may differ in their fine receptor-binding specificity by recognizing the structure of the inner parts of Neu5Ac alpha 2-3Gal-terminated sialyloligosaccharide receptors. To further characterize these differences, we studied receptor-binding properties of a large panel of influenza A viruses from wild aquatic birds, poultry, pigs and horses.
Results: Using a competitive solid-phase binding assay, we determined viral binding to polymeric conjugates of sialyloligosaccharides differing by the type of Neu5Ac alpha-Gal linkage and by the structure of the more distant parts of the oligosaccharide chain. Influenza viruses isolated from terrestrial poultry differed from duck viruses by an enhanced binding to sulfated and/or fucosylated Neu5Ac alpha 2-3Gal-containing sialyloligosaccharides. Most of the poultry viruses tested shared a high binding affinity for the 6-sulfo sialyl Lewis X (Su-SLex). Efficient binding of poultry viruses to Su-SLex was often accompanied by their ability to bind to Neu5Ac alpha 2-6Gal-terminated (human-type) receptors. Such a dual receptor-binding specificity was demonstrated for the North American and Eurasian H7 viruses, H9N2 Eurasian poultry viruses, and H1, H3 and H9 avian-like virus isolates from pigs.
Conclusion: Influenza viruses of terrestrial poultry differ from ancestral duck viruses by enhanced binding to sulfated and/or fucosylated Neu5Ac alpha 2-3Gal-terminated receptors and, occasionally, by the ability to bind to Neu5Ac alpha 2-6Gal-terminated (human-type) receptors. These findings suggest that the adaptation to receptors in poultry can enhance the potential of an avian virus for avian-to-human transmission and pandemic spread.