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Application of a biologically contained reporter system to study gain-of-function H5N1 influenza a viruses with pandemic potential


Spieler, Eva E; Moritz, Eva; Stertz, Silke; Hale, Benjamin G (2020). Application of a biologically contained reporter system to study gain-of-function H5N1 influenza a viruses with pandemic potential. mSphere, 5(4):e00423-20.

Abstract

Natural adaptation of an antigenically novel avian influenza A virus (IAV) to be transmitted efficiently in humans has the potential to trigger a devastating pandemic. Understanding viral genetic determinants underlying adaptation is therefore critical for pandemic preparedness, as the knowledge gained enhances surveillance and eradication efforts, prepandemic vaccine design, and efficacy assessment of antivirals. However, this work has risks, as making gain-of-function substitutions in fully infectious IAVs may create a pathogen with pandemic potential. Thus, such experiments must be tightly controlled through physical and biological risk mitigation strategies. Here, we applied a previously described biological containment system for IAVs to a 2009 pandemic H1N1 strain and a highly pathogenic H5N1 strain. The system relies on deletion of the essential viral hemagglutinin (HA) gene, which is instead provided in trans, thereby restricting multicycle virus replication to genetically modified HA-complementing cells. In place of HA, a Renilla luciferase gene is inserted within the viral genome, and a live-cell luciferase substrate allows real-time quantitative monitoring of viral replication kinetics with a high dynamic range. We demonstrate that biologically contained IAV-like particles exhibit wild-type sensitivities to approved antivirals, including oseltamivir, zanamivir, and baloxavir. Furthermore, the inability of these IAV-like particles to genetically acquire the host-encoded HA allowed us to introduce gain-of-function substitutions in the H5 HA gene that promote mammalian transmissibility. Biologically contained "transmissible" H5N1 IAV-like particles exhibited wild-type sensitivities to approved antivirals, to the fusion inhibitor S20, and to neutralization by existing H5 monoclonal and polyclonal sera. This work represents a proof of principle that biologically contained IAV systems can be used to safely conduct selected gain-of-function experiments.IMPORTANCE Understanding how animal influenza viruses can adapt to spread in humans is critical to prepare for, and prevent, new pandemics. However, working safely with pathogens that have pandemic potential requires tight regulation and the use of high-level physical and biological risk mitigation strategies to stop accidental loss of containment. Here, we used a biological containment system for influenza viruses to study strains with pandemic potential. The system relies on deletion of the essential HA gene from the viral genome and its provision by a genetically modified cell line, to which virus propagation is therefore restricted. We show that this method permits safe handling of these pathogens, including gain-of-function variants, without the risk of generating fully infectious viruses. Furthermore, we demonstrate that this system can be used to assess virus sensitivity to both approved and experimental drugs, as well as the antigenic profile of viruses, important considerations for evaluating prepandemic vaccine and antiviral strategies.

Abstract

Natural adaptation of an antigenically novel avian influenza A virus (IAV) to be transmitted efficiently in humans has the potential to trigger a devastating pandemic. Understanding viral genetic determinants underlying adaptation is therefore critical for pandemic preparedness, as the knowledge gained enhances surveillance and eradication efforts, prepandemic vaccine design, and efficacy assessment of antivirals. However, this work has risks, as making gain-of-function substitutions in fully infectious IAVs may create a pathogen with pandemic potential. Thus, such experiments must be tightly controlled through physical and biological risk mitigation strategies. Here, we applied a previously described biological containment system for IAVs to a 2009 pandemic H1N1 strain and a highly pathogenic H5N1 strain. The system relies on deletion of the essential viral hemagglutinin (HA) gene, which is instead provided in trans, thereby restricting multicycle virus replication to genetically modified HA-complementing cells. In place of HA, a Renilla luciferase gene is inserted within the viral genome, and a live-cell luciferase substrate allows real-time quantitative monitoring of viral replication kinetics with a high dynamic range. We demonstrate that biologically contained IAV-like particles exhibit wild-type sensitivities to approved antivirals, including oseltamivir, zanamivir, and baloxavir. Furthermore, the inability of these IAV-like particles to genetically acquire the host-encoded HA allowed us to introduce gain-of-function substitutions in the H5 HA gene that promote mammalian transmissibility. Biologically contained "transmissible" H5N1 IAV-like particles exhibited wild-type sensitivities to approved antivirals, to the fusion inhibitor S20, and to neutralization by existing H5 monoclonal and polyclonal sera. This work represents a proof of principle that biologically contained IAV systems can be used to safely conduct selected gain-of-function experiments.IMPORTANCE Understanding how animal influenza viruses can adapt to spread in humans is critical to prepare for, and prevent, new pandemics. However, working safely with pathogens that have pandemic potential requires tight regulation and the use of high-level physical and biological risk mitigation strategies to stop accidental loss of containment. Here, we used a biological containment system for influenza viruses to study strains with pandemic potential. The system relies on deletion of the essential HA gene from the viral genome and its provision by a genetically modified cell line, to which virus propagation is therefore restricted. We show that this method permits safe handling of these pathogens, including gain-of-function variants, without the risk of generating fully infectious viruses. Furthermore, we demonstrate that this system can be used to assess virus sensitivity to both approved and experimental drugs, as well as the antigenic profile of viruses, important considerations for evaluating prepandemic vaccine and antiviral strategies.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:04 Faculty of Medicine > Institute of Medical Virology
Dewey Decimal Classification:570 Life sciences; biology
610 Medicine & health
Scopus Subject Areas:Life Sciences > Microbiology
Life Sciences > Molecular Biology
Language:English
Date:26 August 2020
Deposited On:19 Jan 2021 15:50
Last Modified:01 Feb 2021 16:25
Publisher:American Society for Microbiology
ISSN:2379-5042
OA Status:Gold
Free access at:PubMed ID. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1128/mSphere.00423-20
PubMed ID:32848003

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