Animals (Basel)

. 2022 Nov 9;12(22):3079.
doi: 10.3390/ani12223079.
Pathogenicity and Transmissibility of Clade H5N6 Avian Influenza Viruses in Mammals

Cheng Zhang 1 2 , Huan Cui 2 3 , Chunmao Zhang 2 , Kui Zhao 3 , Yunyi Kong 2 , Ligong Chen 1 , Shishan Dong 1 , Zhaoliang Chen 1 , Jie Pu 2 , Lei Zhang 2 , Zhendong Guo 2 , Juxiang Liu 1

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Avian influenza viruses (AIVs) have the potential for cross-species transmission and pandemics. In recent years, clade H5N6 AIVs are prevalent in domestic poultry, posing a threat to the domestic poultry industry and public health. In this study, two strains of H5N6 AIVs were isolated from chickens in Hebei, China, in 2019: A/chicken/Hebei/HB1907/2019(H5N6) and A/chicken/Hebei/HB1905/2019(H5N6). Phylogenetic analysis showed that both viral HA genes clustered in the clade. Receptor binding analysis showed that the HB1905 strain preferentially binds to α-2,3-linked sialic acid (SA) receptors, while the HB1907 strain preferentially binds to α-2,3- and α-2,6-linked sialic acid (SA) receptors. During early infection, the HB1907 strain is highly replicable in MDCK cells, more so than the HB1905 strain. Pathogenicity assays in mice showed that both viruses could replicate in the lungs without prior adaptation, with HB1907 being more highly pathogenic in mice than the HB1905 strain. Significantly, both the HB1905 and HB1907 strains can be transmitted through direct contact among guinea pigs, but the transmission efficiency of the HB1907 strain through contact between guinea pigs is much greater than that of the HB1905 strain. These results strengthen the need for ongoing surveillance and early warning of H5N6 AIVs in poultry.

Keywords: H5N6 subtype; avian influenza; chickens; pathogenicity; transmissibility.