Wild aquatic birds maintain a large, genetically diverse pool of influenza A viruses (IAVs), which can be transmitted to lower mammals and, ultimately, humans. Through phenotypic analyses of viral replication efficiency, only a small set of avian IAVs were found to replicate well in epithelial cells of the swine upper respiratory tract, and these viruses were shown to infect and cause virus shedding in pigs. Such a phenotypic trait of the viral replication efficiency appears to emerge randomly and is distributed among IAVs across multiple avian species and geographic and temporal orders. It is not determined by receptor binding preference but is determined by other markers across genomic segments, such as those in the ribonucleoprotein complex. This study demonstrates that phenotypic variants of viral replication efficiency exist among avian IAVs but that only a few of these may result in viral shedding in pigs upon infection, providing opportunities for these viruses to become adapted to pigs, thus posing a higher potential risk for creating novel variants or detrimental reassortants within pig populations.IMPORTANCE Swine serve as a mixing vessel for generating pandemic strains of human influenza virus. All hemagglutinin subtypes of IAVs can infect swine; however, only sporadic cases of infection with avian IAVs are reported in domestic swine. The molecular mechanisms affecting the ability of avian IAVs to infect swine are still not fully understood. From the findings of phenotypic analyses, this study suggests that the tissue tropisms (i.e., in swine upper respiratory tracts) of avian IAVs affect their spillovers from wild birds to pigs. It was found that this phenotype is determined not by receptor binding preference but is determined by other markers across genomic segments, such as those in the ribonucleoprotein complex. In addition, our results show that such a phenotypic trait was sporadically and randomly distributed among IAVs across multiple avian species and geographic and temporal orders. This study suggests an efficient way for assessment of the risk posed by avian IAVs, such as in evaluating their potentials to be transmitted from birds to pigs.
Keywords: H4N6; avian influenza virus; avian viruses; host tropism; influenza A viruses; mixing vessel; risk assessment; spillover; swine influenza virus; swine upper respiratory tract; tissue tropism; transmission.
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