Transgenic Chicks Expressing Interferon-Inducible Transmembrane Protein 1 (IFITM1) Restrict Highly Pathogenic H5N1 Influenza Viruses

Int J Mol Sci. 2021 Aug 6;22(16):8456. doi: 10.3390/ijms22168456.


Mammalian cells utilize a wide spectrum of pathways to antagonize the viral replication. These pathways are typically regulated by antiviral proteins and can be constitutively expressed but also exacerbated by interferon induction. A myriad of interferon-stimulated genes (ISGs) have been identified in mounting broad-spectrum antiviral responses. Members of the interferon-induced transmembrane (IFITM) family of proteins are unique among these ISGs due to their ability to prevent virus entry through the lipid bilayer into the cell. In the current study, we generated transgenic chickens that constitutively and stably expressed chicken IFITM1 (chIFITM1) using the avian sarcoma-leukosis virus (RCAS)-based gene transfer system. The challenged transgenic chicks with clinical dose 104 egg infective dose 50 (EID50) of highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAIV) subtype H5N1 (clade showed 100% protection and significant infection tolerance. Although challenged transgenic chicks displayed 60% protection against challenge with the sub-lethal dose (EID50 105), the transgenic chicks showed delayed clinical symptoms, reduced virus shedding, and reduced histopathologic alterations compared to non-transgenic challenged control chickens. These finding indicate that the sterile defense against H5N1 HPAIV offered by the stable expression of chIFITM1 is inadequate; however, the clinical outcome can be substantially ameliorated. In conclusion, chIFITM proteins can inhibit influenza virus replication that can infect various host species and could be a crucial barrier against zoonotic infections.

Keywords: HPAIV H5N1; chIFITM1; transgenic chickens; zoonotic infections.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Genetically Modified / genetics
  • Antigens, Differentiation / genetics*
  • Avian Proteins / genetics*
  • Chickens / genetics*
  • Chickens / virology
  • Gene Transfer Techniques
  • Influenza A Virus, H5N1 Subtype / physiology*
  • Influenza in Birds / genetics*
  • Influenza in Birds / pathology
  • Influenza in Birds / virology


  • Antigens, Differentiation
  • Avian Proteins
  • leu-13 antigen