, Volume 44, Issue 3, pp 450-458
Date: 28 Jan 2012

Evolution and adaptation of hemagglutinin gene of human H5N1 influenza virus

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The H5N1 HPAI virus has brought heavy loss to poultry industry. Although, there exists limited human-to-human transmission, it poses potential serious risks to public health. HA is responsible for receptor-binding and membrane-fusion and contains the host receptor-binding sites and major epitopes for neutralizing antibodies. To investigate molecular adaption of HPAI H5N1 viruses, we performed a phylogenetic analysis of HA sequences with 240 HPAI virus strains isolated from human. The topology of the tree reveals overall clustering of strains in four major clusters based on geographic location, and shows antigenic diversity of HA of human H5N1 isolates co-circulating in Asia, Africa, and Europe. The four clusters possess distinct features within the cleavage site and glycosylation sites, respectively. We identified six sites apparently evolving under positive selection, five of which persist in the population. Three positively selected sites are found to be located either within or flanking the receptor-binding sites, suggesting that selection at these sites may increase the affinity to human-type receptor. Furthermore, some sites are also associated with glycosylation and antigenic changes. In addition, two sites are found to be selected differentially in the two clusters. The analyses provide us deep insight into the adaptive evolution of human H5N1 viruses, show us several candidate mutations that could cause a pandemic, and suggest that efficiency measures should be taken to deal with potential risks.