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Increased Polymerase Activity of Zoonotic H7N9 Allows Partial Escape from MxA

The interferon-induced myxovirus resistance protein A (MxA) is a potent restriction factor that prevents zoonotic infection from influenza A virus (IAV) subtype H7N9. Individuals expressing antivirally inactive MxA variants are highly susceptible to these infections. However, human-adapted IAVs have acquired specific mutations in the viral nucleoprotein (NP) that allow escape from MxA-mediated restriction but that have not been observed in MxA-sensitive, human H7N9 isolates. To date, it is unknown whether H7N9 can adapt to escape MxA-mediated restriction. To study this, we infected Rag2-knockout (Rag2-/-) mice with a defect in T and B cell maturation carrying a human MxA transgene (MxAtg/-Rag2-/-). In these mice, the virus could replicate for several weeks facilitating host adaptation. In MxAtg/-Rag2-/-, but not in Rag2-/- mice, the well-described mammalian adaptation E627K in the viral polymerase subunit PB2 was acquired, but no variants with MxA escape mutations in NP were detected. Utilizing reverse genetics, we could show that acquisition of PB2 E627K allowed partial evasion from MxA restriction in MxAtg/tg mice. However, pretreatment with type I interferon decreased viral replication in these mice, suggesting that PB2 E627K is not a true MxA escape mutation. Based on these results, we speculate that it might be difficult for H7N9 to acquire MxA escape mutations in the viral NP. This is consistent with previous findings showing that MxA escape mutations cause severe attenuation of IAVs of avian origin.



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