Modified Sialic Acids on Mucus and Erythrocytes Inhibit Influenza A Virus Hemagglutinin and Neuraminidase Functions

J Virol. 2020 Apr 16;94(9):e01567-19. doi: 10.1128/JVI.01567-19. Print 2020 Apr 16.


Sialic acids (Sia) are the primary receptors for influenza viruses and are widely displayed on cell surfaces and in secreted mucus. Sia may be present in variant forms that include O-acetyl modifications at C-4, C-7, C-8, and C-9 positions and N-acetyl or N-glycolyl at C-5. They can also vary in their linkages, including α2-3 or α2-6 linkages. Here, we analyze the distribution of modified Sia in cells and tissues of wild-type mice or in mice lacking CMP-N-acetylneuraminic acid hydroxylase (CMAH) enzyme, which synthesizes N-glycolyl (Neu5Gc) modifications. We also examined the variation of Sia forms on erythrocytes and in saliva from different animals. To determine the effect of Sia modifications on influenza A virus (IAV) infection, we tested for effects on hemagglutinin (HA) binding and neuraminidase (NA) cleavage. We confirmed that 9-O-acetyl, 7,9-O-acetyl, 4-O-acetyl, and Neu5Gc modifications are widely but variably expressed in mouse tissues, with the highest levels detected in the respiratory and gastrointestinal (GI) tracts. Secreted mucins in saliva and surface proteins of erythrocytes showed a high degree of variability in display of modified Sia between different species. IAV HAs from different virus strains showed consistently reduced binding to both Neu5Gc- and O-acetyl-modified Sia; however, while IAV NAs were inhibited by Neu5Gc and O-acetyl modifications, there was significant variability between NA types. The modifications of Sia in mucus may therefore have potent effects on the functions of IAV and may affect both pathogens and the normal flora of different mucosal sites.IMPORTANCE Sialic acids (Sia) are involved in numerous different cellular functions and are receptors for many pathogens. Sia come in chemically modified forms, but we lack a clear understanding of how they alter interactions with microbes. Here, we examine the expression of modified Sia in mouse tissues, on secreted mucus in saliva, and on erythrocytes, including those from IAV host species and animals used in IAV research. These Sia forms varied considerably among different animals, and their inhibitory effects on IAV NA and HA activities and on bacterial sialidases (neuraminidases) suggest a host-variable protective role in secreted mucus.

Keywords: influenza; mucus; sialic acids.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • A549 Cells
  • Animals
  • Dogs
  • Erythrocytes / metabolism
  • Female
  • Hemagglutinin Glycoproteins, Influenza Virus / metabolism
  • Hemagglutinins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Influenza A virus / metabolism*
  • Influenza A virus / physiology
  • Influenza, Human / metabolism
  • Madin Darby Canine Kidney Cells
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mixed Function Oxygenases / metabolism
  • Mucus / metabolism*
  • N-Acetylneuraminic Acid / metabolism*
  • Neuraminidase / metabolism
  • Orthomyxoviridae / metabolism
  • Receptors, Virus / metabolism
  • Saliva / chemistry


  • Hemagglutinin Glycoproteins, Influenza Virus
  • Hemagglutinins
  • O-acetyl sialic acid
  • Receptors, Virus
  • Mixed Function Oxygenases
  • CMPacetylneuraminate monooxygenase
  • Neuraminidase
  • N-Acetylneuraminic Acid