The pathogenicity of H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) viruses in domestic ducks varies between different viruses and is affected by the age of the ducks, with younger ducks presenting a more severe disease. In order to better understand the pathobiology of H5N1 HPAI in ducks including the role of host responses, 2 and 5-week-old Pekin ducks were infected with three different H5N1 HPAI viruses. Virus-induced pathology ranged from no clinical signs to severe disease and mortality, with the 2-week-old ducks being more severely affected by the more virulent viruses. However, these more virulent viruses induced higher body temperatures in the 5-week-old ducks than in the 2-week-old ducks indicating possible differences in innate immune responses. To analyze the ducks host responses to H5N1 HPAI virus infection, expression of innate immune-related genes was measured in the spleens and lungs of infected ducks at the peak of virus infection. IFN-α, RIG-I, and IL-6 RNA levels were increased in spleens regardless of the virus given and the age of the ducks, however differences were observed in the levels of up-regulation of IFN-α and RIG-I between the 2 and the 5-week-old ducks with the more virulent virus. Differences in IL-2 gene expression were also observed. In the lungs, the levels of expression of innate immune-related genes were lower than in the spleen, with mostly up-regulation of RIG-I and IL-6 and down-regulation of IFN-α and IL-2; no significant difference in expression was found between the 2 and the 5-week-old ducks. The differences observed in the innate immune responses to infection with H5N1 HPAI viruses could explain in part the differences in pathogenicity found between the 2 and 5-week-old ducks, however earlier time points after infection and additional innate immune-related genes should be examined.
Published by Elsevier B.V.