Pathobiology of an NS1-Truncated H3N2 Swine Influenza Virus Strain in Pigs

J Virol. 2022 Jun 8;96(11):e0051922. doi: 10.1128/jvi.00519-22. Epub 2022 May 12.


Virus strains in the live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV) for swine in the United States that was on the market until 2020 encode a truncated nonstructural protein 1 of 126 amino acids (NS1del126). Their attenuation is believed to be due to an impaired ability to counteract the type I interferon (IFN)-mediated antiviral host response. However, this mechanism has been documented only in vitro for H3N2 strain A/swine/Texas/4199-2/98 NS1del126 (lvTX98), and several cases of clinical respiratory disease in the field were associated with the LAIV strains. We therefore further examined the pathobiology, including type I IFN induction, of lvTX98 in pigs and compared it with IFN induction in pig kidney-15 (PK-15) cells. lvTX98 induced up to 3-fold-higher type I IFN titers than wild-type TX98 (wtTX98) after inoculation of PK-15 cells at a high multiplicity of infection, while virus replication kinetics were similar. Mean nasal lvTX98 excretion by intranasally inoculated pigs was on average 50 times lower than that for wtTX98 but still reached titers of up to 4.3 log10 50% tissue culture infective doses/mL. After intratracheal inoculation, mean lvTX98 titers in the lower respiratory tract were significantly reduced at 18 to 48 h postinoculation (hpi) but similar to wtTX98 titers at 72 hpi. lvTX98 caused milder clinical signs than wtTX98 but induced comparable levels of microscopic and macroscopic lung lesions, peak neutrophil infiltration, and peak type I IFN. Thus, lvTX98 was partly attenuated in pigs, but this could not be associated with higher type I IFN levels. IMPORTANCE Swine influenza A viruses (swIAVs) with a truncated NS1del126 protein were strongly attenuated in previous laboratory-based safety studies and therefore approved for use as LAIVs for swine in the United States. In the field, however, the LAIV strains were detected in diagnostic samples and could regain a wild-type NS1 via reassortment with endemic swIAVs. This suggests a significant degree of LAIV replication and urges further investigation of the level and mechanism of attenuation of these LAIV strains in vivo. Here, we show that H3N2 LAIV strain lvTX98 is only partly attenuated in pigs and is excreted at significant titers after intranasal vaccination. Attenuation and restricted replication of lvTX98 in vivo seemed to be associated with the loss of NS1 functions other than type I IFN antagonism. Our findings can help to explain the occurrence of clinical respiratory disease and reassortment events associated with NS1del126-based LAIV strains in the field.

Keywords: H3N2; NS1; attenuation; influenza A; pathobiology; swine; type I interferon.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Influenza A Virus, H3N2 Subtype* / genetics
  • Influenza A Virus, H3N2 Subtype* / pathogenicity
  • Influenza Vaccines*
  • Interferon Type I / immunology*
  • Orthomyxoviridae Infections* / virology
  • Swine / virology
  • Swine Diseases* / virology
  • Vaccines, Attenuated
  • Viral Nonstructural Proteins / genetics


  • INS1 protein, influenza virus
  • Influenza Vaccines
  • Interferon Type I
  • Vaccines, Attenuated
  • Viral Nonstructural Proteins