Background: A major determinant of influenza infection is the presence of virus receptors on susceptible host cells to which the viral haemagglutinin is able to bind. Avian viruses preferentially bind to sialic acid alpha2,3-galactose (SAalpha2,3-Gal) linked receptors, whereas human strains bind to sialic acid alpha2,6-galactose (SAalpha2,6-Gal) linked receptors. To date, there has been no detailed account published on the distribution of SA receptors in the pig, a model host that is susceptible to avian and human influenza subtypes, thus with potential for virus reassortment. We examined the relative expression and spatial distribution of SAalpha2,3-GalG(1-3)GalNAc and SAalpha2,6-Gal receptors in the major organs from normal post-weaned pigs by binding with lectins Maackia amurensis agglutinins (MAA II) and Sambucus nigra agglutinin (SNA) respectively.
Results: Both SAalpha2,3-Gal and SAalpha2,6-Gal receptors were extensively detected in the major porcine organs examined (trachea, lung, liver, kidney, spleen, heart, skeletal muscle, cerebrum, small intestine and colon). Furthermore, distribution of both SA receptors in the pig respiratory tract closely resembled the published data of the human tract. Similar expression patterns of SA receptors between pig and human in other major organs were found, with exception of the intestinal tract. Unlike the limited reports on the scarcity of influenza receptors in human intestines, we found increasing presence of SAalpha2,3-Gal and SAalpha2,6-Gal receptors from duodenum to colon in the pig.
Conclusions: The extensive presence of SAalpha2,3-Gal and SAalpha2,6-Gal receptors in the major organs examined suggests that each major organ may be permissive to influenza virus entry or infection. The high similarity of SA expression patterns between pig and human, in particular in the respiratory tract, suggests that pigs are not more likely to be potential hosts for virus reassortment than humans. Our finding of relative abundance of SA receptors in the pig intestines highlights a need for clarification on the presence of SA receptors in the human intestinal tract.