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A Single Point Mutation (Y89F) within the Non-Structural Protein 1 of Influenza A Viruses Limits Epithelial Cell Tropism and Virulence in Mice

Open AccessPublished:April 23, 2012DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajpath.2012.02.029
      The nonstructural protein 1 (A/NS1) of influenza A viruses (IAV) harbors several src homology (SH)–binding motifs (bm) that mediate interactions with cellular proteins. In contrast to the sequence variability of the second SH3bm, tyrosine 89, within the SH2bm is a highly conserved residue among IAV strains. This prompted us to evaluate the necessity of this SH2bm for IAV virulence. In an in vivo mouse model, we observed drastic reductions in weight loss, mortality, and virus titers in lung and bronchoalveolar lavage fluid after infection with the mutant virus PR8 A/NS1-Y89F (PR8 Y89F) when compared with wild-type virus (PR8 wt). Concomitantly, we observed decreased inflammation and less severe pathologic changes, reflecting reduced levels of virus titers. At histologic analysis, lungs infected with PR8 wt virus showed widespread destruction of the bronchiolar epithelium, with extensive distribution of virus antigen within tracheal, bronchial, bronchiolar, and alveolar epithelium. In marked contrast, the bronchiolar epithelium after infection with the mutant PR8 Y89F virus was entirely intact, and the severity and extent of viral infection was reduced and strongly restricted to alveoli. These findings demonstrate that change of a single residue of the highly conserved SH2bm within the A/NS1 results in restricted virus spread in mouse lung and strongly reduced virulence, which illustrates the necessity of the SH2bm for IAV-induced pathogenicity.
      As estimated by the World Health Organization, infections of the respiratory tract are responsible for greater than 6% of all deaths worldwide. Among all pathogens that can infect the respiratory tract, influenza A viruses (IAV) are among the most common and devastating.
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      SH3 binding motif 1 in influenza A virus NS1 protein is essential for PI3K/Akt signaling pathway activation.
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      • Jackson D.
      The multifunctional NS1 protein of influenza A viruses.
      A/NS1 is a multifunctional protein consisting of an RNA-binding domain and several protein–protein interaction motifs including three src homology (SH) binding motifs (bm), one SH2bm and two SH3bm.
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      A new player in a deadly game: influenza viruses and the PI3K/Akt signalling pathway.
      During the last several years, multiple studies have focused on the effects of the various SHbm within A/NS1 on binding to cellular proteins, predominantly to p85 of PI3K. Insofar as A/NS1 interaction with the p85β subunit of PI3K, involvement of the SH2bm and the first SH3bm within A/NS1 has been demonstrated,
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      Influenza A virus NS1 protein binds p85beta and activates phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase signaling.
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      SH3 binding motif 1 in influenza A virus NS1 protein is essential for PI3K/Akt signaling pathway activation.
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      A new player in a deadly game: influenza viruses and the PI3K/Akt signalling pathway.
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      and Hale et al
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      • Lamb R.A.
      • Randall R.E.
      Influenza A virus NS1 protein binds p85beta and activates phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase signaling.
      have highlighted the effect of the residue Y89 within the SH2bm on A/NS1–p85β interaction. The necessity of tyrosine residue 89 within the SH2bm of A/NS1 is in line with the function-determining character of the tyrosine residue in functional SH2bm.
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      SH2 and SH3-containing adaptor proteins: redundant or independent mediators of intracellular signal transduction.
      The SHbm within A/NS1 differ in their evolutionary conservation on amino acid levels. The functional second SH3bm (aa212–217) is highly conserved in avian IAV strains, but is uncommon in IAV of human origin.
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      Avian and 1918 Spanish influenza A virus NS1 proteins bind to Crk/CrkL Src homology 3 domains to activate host cell signaling.
      This is linked to different binding properties to cellular proteins of the Crk family of adaptor proteins,
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      Avian and 1918 Spanish influenza A virus NS1 proteins bind to Crk/CrkL Src homology 3 domains to activate host cell signaling.
      which are involved in regulation of the antiviral acting JNK signaling pathway.
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      • Wixler V.
      • Wolff T.
      • Wagner R.
      • Ludwig S.
      • Ehrhardt C.
      CRK adaptor protein expression is required for efficient replication of avian influenza A viruses and controls JNK-mediated apoptotic responses.
      In contrast to the sequence variability of the second SH3bm, the function-determining tyrosine 89 within the SH2bm is highly conserved among many IAV strains including human H5 and H7 strains and pandemic H1N1v strains.
      The major effect of A/NS1 on IAV virulence, combined with the strong conservation of tyrosine 89 within the SH2bm, prompted us to analyze the contribution of this SH2bm for IAV virulence in an in vivo mouse model. Herein, we demonstrate that the highly conserved SH2bm within A/NS1 of IAV is crucial for efficient replication of IAV in vitro and in vivo. Furthermore, disruption of this motif restricts virus distribution in the entire mouse lung, limits replication almost entirely to the alveoli, reduces the inflammatory response and pathologic changes in the lung, and results in dramatically reduced virulence.

      Materials and Methods

      Cells, Viruses, and Infection Conditions

      MDCK (Madin-Darby canine kidney) cells were cultured in minimal essential medium, and the human lung epithelial cell line (A549), human embryonic kidney cells (HEK293), and murine lung epithelial cell line (ASB-XIV) were cultivated in Dulbecco's modified Eagle's medium. Cell culture media were supplemented with 10% heat-inactivated fetal bovine serum. The human recombinant influenza virus A/Puerto Rico/8/34 (PR8), wild type (PR8 wt) and the corresponding mutant virus recombinant A/PR8 A/NS1-Y89F (PR8 Y89F) (PR8-NS1-Y89F forward, 5′-TACCTGCGTCGCGTTTCCTAACTGACATGAC-3′, and PR8-NS1-Y89F reverse, 5′-GTCATGTCAGTTAGGAAACGCGACGCAGGTA-3′) were generated by using the pHW2000-based reverse genetic system,
      • Hoffmann E.
      • Krauss S.
      • Perez D.
      • Webby R.
      • Webster R.G.
      Eight-plasmid system for rapid generation of influenza virus vaccines.
      as described earlier,
      • Hrincius E.R.
      • Wixler V.
      • Wolff T.
      • Wagner R.
      • Ludwig S.
      • Ehrhardt C.
      CRK adaptor protein expression is required for efficient replication of avian influenza A viruses and controls JNK-mediated apoptotic responses.
      and propagated on 11-day-old embryonated chicken eggs or MDCK cells. The presence and correctness of the desired mutation was confirmed via sequencing. The primary experiments were repeated using two independently rescued viruses. The infection procedure of cells was conducted as described earlier.
      • Hrincius E.R.
      • Wixler V.
      • Wolff T.
      • Wagner R.
      • Ludwig S.
      • Ehrhardt C.
      CRK adaptor protein expression is required for efficient replication of avian influenza A viruses and controls JNK-mediated apoptotic responses.

      Standard Plaque Titration

      Supernatants of infected cells were collected at specified times after infection, and were used to assess the number of infectious particles (plaque titers) in the samples, as described previously.
      • Hrincius E.R.
      • Wixler V.
      • Wolff T.
      • Wagner R.
      • Ludwig S.
      • Ehrhardt C.
      CRK adaptor protein expression is required for efficient replication of avian influenza A viruses and controls JNK-mediated apoptotic responses.

      Western Blot Analysis, Antibodies, and Immunoprecipitation

      After treatment, cells were lysed on ice for 30 minutes using radioimmunoprecipitation assay lysis buffer: 25 mmol/L Tris HCl (pH 8.0), 137 mmol/L NaCl, 10% glycerol, 0.1% SDS, 0.5% deoxycholate, 1% NP40, 2 mmol/L EDTA (pH 8.0), 5 μg/mL leupeptin, 5 μg/mL aprotinin, 0.2 mmol/L pefablock, 1 mmol/L sodium vanadate, and 5 mmol/L benzamidine. Cell lysates were cleared from debris via centrifugation, and the Bradford method was used for determination of protein concentrations. Cell lysates were used for analysis of protein expression using Western blot analysis. For immunoprecipitation, cells were lysed on ice for 30 minutes using Triton lysis buffer: 20 mmol/L Tris HCl (pH 7.4), 137 mmol/L NaCl, 10% glycerol, 1% Triton X-100, 2 mmol/L EDTA, 50 mmol/L sodium glycerophosphate, 20 mmol/L sodium pyrophosphate, 5 μg/mL leupeptin, 5 μg/mL aprotinin, 0.2 mmol/L pefablock, 1 mmol/L sodium vanadate, and 5 mmol/L benzamidine. Cell lysates were processed as described above. For immunoprecipitation, anti-A/NS1 mouse monoclonal antibody (clone NS1-69-1; developed at the Institute of Molecular Virology, Muenster, Germany) coupled to protein G agarose (Roche Pharma AG, Grenzach-Wyhlen, Germany) was used. Serum from non-immunized mice was used as control. For immunoprecipitation input controls, lysates were directly subjected to SDS-PAGE and Western blot analysis.
      Activation of the PI3K pathway was monitored via detection of Akt phosphorylation using a specific anti-Akt(pS473) rabbit monoclonal antibody (Biosource; Invitrogen Corp., Carlsbad, CA). A/NS1 was visualized using an anti-A/NS1 mouse monoclonal antibody (clone NS1-23-1; developed at the Institute of Molecular Virology) or an anti-A/NS1 rabbit polyclonal antibody (provided by Dr. Thorsten Wolff, Robert-Koch-Institut, Berlin, Germany). To detect the p85β subunit of PI3K, an anti-p85β mouse monoclonal antibody (AbD Serotec, Düsseldorf, Germany) was used. For loading controls, an anti-ERK2 (C-14) rabbit polyclonal antibody (Santa Cruz Biotechnology, Inc., Heidelberg, Germany) and an anti-Akt rabbit polyclonal antibody (Biosource) were used. Protein bands were visualized using a standard enhanced chemiluminescence reaction.

      Viral RNA Isolation, Transient Transfections, and Plasmids

      For extraction of genomic viral RNA (vRNA), the supernatant of infected MDCK cells was cleared via centrifugation and subjected to two steps of sterile filtration (filter diameters, 0.45 and 0.2 μm). The virus particles were pelleted via ultracentrifugation, and were re-dissolved in PBS before vRNA was isolated using the peqGOLD Viral RNA Kit (peqLab Biotechnologie GmbH, Erlangen, Germany). Cells were transfected with lipofectamine 2000 (Invitrogen GmbH, Darmstadt, Germany) according to the protocol of Basler et al.
      • Basler C.F.
      • Wang X.
      • Muhlberger E.
      • Volchkov V.
      • Paragas J.
      • Klenk H.D.
      • Garcia-Sastre A.
      • Palese P.
      The Ebola virus VP35 protein functions as a type I IFN antagonist.
      p85β was expressed in 293 cells from the plasmid pCMV6-xL6-p85 (OriGene Technologies, Inc., Rockville, MD). After 24 hours of incubation at 37°C with 5% CO2, cells were infected and further treated for immunoprecipitation. The plasmids pcDNA3–PR8-NS1 wild type and pcDNA3-NS1-Y89F were used for overexpression of the corresponding proteins in A549 cells. Empty vector was used as control. After 24 hours, cells were transfected with vRNA (500 ng per 12-well).

      Isolation of RNA and Quantitative Real-Time PCR

      Total RNA from treated or untreated cells was isolated using the RNeasy Mini Kit (Qiagen GmbH, Hilden, Germany) according to the manufacturer's protocol. For reverse transcription of mRNA, 1 μg total RNA and 0.5 μg oligo(dT) primer in a total volume of 12 μL were heated for 10 minutes at 70°C. Enzyme mix was prepared [5× enzyme buffer (Fermentas GmbH, St. Leon-Rot, Germany), H2O, and 500 μmol/L deoxyribonucleotide triphosphate] and incubated at room temperature for 5 minutes before 535 U/100 μL RevertAid H Minus M-MuLV (Fermentas) was added to start reverse transcription at 42°C for 1 hour. Inactivation of reverse transcription was performed at 70°C for 5 minutes. For the quantitative PCR (qPCR) reaction, Brilliant QPCR SYBR Green Master Mix (Stratagene Division, Agilent Technologies, Inc., Santa Clara, CA) was used according to the manufacturer's instructions. Relative RNA concentrations were determined after 40 cycles of amplification by using the 2−ΔΔCT method.
      • Livak K.J.
      • Schmittgen T.D.
      Analysis of relative gene expression data using real-time quantitative PCR and the 2(-Delta Delta C(T)) Method.
      The housekeeping gene GAPDH served as internal standard. The following primers were used: GAPDH forward, 5′-GCAAATTTCCATGGCACCGT-3′, and GAPDH reverse, 5′-GCCCCACTTGATTTTGGAGG-3′; IFN-β forward, 5′-GGCCATGACCAACAAGTGTCTCCTCC-3′, and IFN-β reverse, 5′-GCGCTCAGTTTCGGAGGTAACCTGT-3′; and IL-6 forward, 5′-AGAGGCACTGGCAGAAAACAAC-3′, and IL-6 reverse, 5′-AGGCAAGTCTCCTCATTGAATCC-3′.

      Mouse Experiments

      All mouse studies were performed in compliance with animal welfare regulations (reference No. Az 8.87-50.10.36.09.007 from the State Agency for Nature, Environment, and Consumer Protection, Germany) and under an animal protocol approved by the Animal Care and Use Committee of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Eight-week-old BALB/c mice (Harlan-Winkelmann GmbH, Borchen, Germany, or Jackson Laboratory, Bar Harbor, ME) were used for the mouse studies. The animals were anesthetized via intraperitoneal injection of 250 μL of a 1:1 mixture of 10% ketamine and 2% xylazine (both from Ceva Tiergesundheit GmbH, Düsseldorf, Germany) diluted 1:10 in PBS, and then were infected intranasally with the indicated viruses and plaque-forming units (PFU) in a 50 μL volume. Mice were monitored daily for disease symptoms, weight, and lethality. The mouse lethal dose (MLD50) was calculated according to the protocol of Reed and Muench.
      • Reed L.J.
      • Muench H.
      A simple method of estimating fifty percent endpoints.
      In accordance with protection of animal welfare restrictions, mice were sacrificed after weight loss of 25%.

      Determination of Virus Titers and Cytokine and Chemokine Levels in Mouse Lungs

      For measurement of virus titers in infected mouse lungs, mice were sacrificed at specified times after infection, and lungs were collected in PBS. The lungs were homogenized using a FastPrep-24 homogenizer with Lysing Matrix D (both from MP Biomedical LLC, Illkirch, France), and were adjusted with PBS to obtain a 10% tissue homogenate. The samples were centrifuged, and the supernatants were used for virus titer determination in standard plaque titration.
      For analyzing cytokine and chemokine levels in total mouse lung, after sacrifice of mice at the specified times after infection, the lungs were collected in Trizol, and RNA was isolated using a modification of the RNAzol method.
      • Chomczynski P.
      • Sacchi N.
      Single-step method of RNA isolation by acid guanidinium thiocyanate-phenol-chloroform extraction.
      Reverse transcription and qPCR reactions were conducted as described above.
      The housekeeping gene GAPDH served as internal standard. The following primers were used: GAPDH forward, 5′-TGACCACAGTCCATGCCATC-3′, and GAPDH reverse, 5′-GACGGACACATTGGGGGTAG-3′; MCP-1 forward, 5′-TTAAAAACCTGGATCGGAACCAA-3′, and MCP-1 reverse, 5′-GCATTAGCTTCAGATTTACGGGT-3′; TNF-α forward, 5′-CCCTCACACTCAGATCATCTTCT-3′, and TNF-α reverse, 5′-GCTACGACGTGGGCTACAG-3′; IL-6 forward, 5′-TAGTCCTTCCTACCCCAATTTCC-3′, and IL-6 reverse, 5′-TTGGTCCTTAGCCACTCCTTC-3′; MIP-1α forward, 5′-TTCTCTGTACCATGACACTCTGC-3′, and MIP-1α reverse, 5′-CGTGGAATCTTCCGGCTGTAG-3′; and MIP-1β forward, 5′-TTCCTGCTGTTTCTCTTACACCT-3′, and MIP-1β reverse 5′-CTGTCTGCCTCTTTTGGTCAG-3′.

      BALF Collection, Virus Titration, Pathologic Marker, and Flow Cytometry

      After mice were sacrificed, the trachea was exposed and cannulated using an 18-gauge plastic catheter (BD Insyte; Becton Dickinson GmbH, Heidelberg, Germany). Lungs were lavaged five times using 600 μL cold sterile PBS (0.5 mmol/L EDTA and 1% fetal calf serum). For determining the total protein and lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) concentrations as markers for pathologic changes in the lung, BALF was collected using PBS not supplemented with EDTA and fetal calf serum. After collection of BALF, cells were centrifuged, and the supernatant was used for virus titer determination via a standard plaque assay, for total protein concentration via the Bradford assay (Bio-Rad Laboratories GmbH, Munich, Germany), and for LDH via an LDH assay (Sigma Corp., St. Louis, MO) according to the manufacturer's protocol.
      After red blood cell lysis, the number of total cells in BALF was determined (Countess Automated Cell Counter; Invitrogen Corp.). Flow cytometry (FACSCalibur; Becton Dickinson GmbH) was performed on the BALF cell suspensions via staining with F4/80 (FITC), MHCII (PE), CD11c (PECy7), Gr1 (APC), CD3 (FITC), and CD4 (PECy7) (all from eBiosciences, Frankfurt, Germany), and CD8 (PE) (Becton Dickinson GmbH). The percentage of alveolar macrophages [F4/80+, Gr1(low), CD11c(high), and MHC-II(low)], exudate macrophages [F4/80+, Gr1(high), CD11c(int), and MHC-II(low)], neutrophils (Gr1+, F4/80, and CD11c), CD4+ T cells (CD3+ and CD4+), and cytotoxic T cells (CD3+ and CD8+) were assessed after gating for viable cells. The measured counts of these cell populations in BALF were related to the total number of viable cells in BALF that resulted in the total number of these cell types in BALF.

      Histopathology and IHC

      Mice were euthanized on day 3 or day 5 after infection, and lungs were fixed via intratracheal infusion and then immersion in 10% neutral buffered formalin solution. Tissues were embedded in formalin, sectioned, and stained with H&E, with serial histologic sections stained IHC to determine the distribution of influenza virus antigen in the lung using hematoxylin as counterstain. For IHC, goat primary polyclonal antibody (US Biological, Swampscott, MA) against anti-influenza A, USSR (H1N1) was used 1:1000 on tissue sections subjected to antigen retrieval for 30 minutes at 98°C [Target Retrieval Solution (pH 9); Dako Corp., Carpinteria, CA]. To quantify the extent of viral infection in the lungs, digital images of whole lung sections stained for viral antigen were first captured using the Aperio ScanScope XT Slide Scanner (Aperio Technologies, Inc., Vista, CA); then both uninfected and virus-positive regions were outlined manually, and areas determined using ImageScope software (Aperio Technologies, Inc.).

      Results

      Mutation Y89F within A/NS1 Disrupts the Functional SH2bm and Results in Reduced Replication Fitness

      Before studying the functional consequences of disrupting the SH2bm in A/NS1, we confirmed the altered binding properties caused by introduction of the mutation Y89F. For this purpose, we compared a PR8 A/NS1 Y89F virus (PR8 Y89F) and the corresponding wild-type virus (PR8 wt) with regard to the well-characterized interaction of A/NS1 with the regulatory subunit p85β of PI3K.
      • Hale B.G.
      • Jackson D.
      • Chen Y.H.
      • Lamb R.A.
      • Randall R.E.
      Influenza A virus NS1 protein binds p85beta and activates phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase signaling.
      The mutation Y89F resulted in impaired A/NS1–p85β interaction (Figure 1A) and strongly attenuated activation of PI3K signaling, as indicated by a strong reduction in phosphorylation of PI3K effector kinase Akt
      • Ehrhardt C.
      • Ludwig S.
      A new player in a deadly game: influenza viruses and the PI3K/Akt signalling pathway.
      in human (Figure 1B) and mouse (Figure 1F, upper panel) lung epithelial cells. This confirmed the loss of a functional SH2bm within A/NS1 by point mutation of the crucial tyrosine residue at position 89. Focusing on the functional consequences of disrupting the SH2bm, we examined the replication ability of the PR8 Y89F virus in comparison with the wild-type virus. Growth kinetics in A549 human lung epithelial cells (Figure 1C) and ASB XIV mouse lung epithelial cells (Figure 1F, lower panel) revealed clearly reduced progeny virus titers of the PR8 Y89F mutant virus. Although interaction of A/NS1 with PI3K was disrupted, we could not observe any effects of the mutation on events during replication described to be PI3K regulated, such as export of viral ribonucleoproteins or prevention of premature apoptosis
      • Ehrhardt C.
      • Ludwig S.
      A new player in a deadly game: influenza viruses and the PI3K/Akt signalling pathway.
      (data not shown). Therefore, we further focused on additional functions of A/NS1. The protein is well described as a suppressor of antiviral signaling.
      • Hale B.G.
      • Randall R.E.
      • Ortin J.
      • Jackson D.
      The multifunctional NS1 protein of influenza A viruses.
      Therefore, we wondered whether the mutation Y89F changes the inhibitory properties of the protein. We investigated the induction of various cytokines and chemokines on infection with wild-type and mutant virus. The wild-type virus induced antiviral cytokines such as IFN-β or IL-6 more efficiently than did PR8 Y89F (Figure 1D), correlating with reduced progeny virus titers of the mutant virus (data not shown). Measurement of the mRNA level of CCL5, TNF-α, and MIP-1α revealed elevated mRNA levels after PR8 wt compared with PR8 Y89F virus infection as well (data not shown). These data indicate that reduced levels of some cytokines and chemokines are most likely a consequence of reduced levels of progeny virus rather than a direct effect of the mutated A/NS1 on cytokine expression. To verify this assumption, we analyzed the effect of the A/NS1 Y89F mutant on cytokine expression in the absence of infection. We overexpressed the wild-type and mutant versions of A/NS1 and stimulated the cells with genomic vRNA purified from virus particles. Stimulation of control cells with vRNA increased the mRNA level of IFN-β or IL-6, whereas this induction was reduced by both expression of wild-type and A/NS1 Y89F viruses to the same extent (Figure 1E), demonstrating that the mutation Y89F does not disrupt the inhibitory properties of A/NS1 on vRNA-induced antiviral signaling. Investigation of CCL5, TNF-α, and MIP-1α mRNA levels confirmed the results for IFN-β and IL-6 (data not shown). Considered together, our data thus far show that the mutation Y89F within A/NS1 disrupts the function of the SH2bm, resulting in reduced replication ability in human and mouse lung epithelial cells. However, the mutation does not alter known PI3K functions in the infected cell, and does not interfere with the well-established inhibitory potential of A/NS1 on induction of antiviral signaling.
      Figure thumbnail gr1
      Figure 1Disruption of functional SH2bm within A/NS1 by the mutation Y89F impairs virus replication. A: At 24 hours after transfection with a plasmid encoding p85β, 293 cells were infected with PR8 wt virus or the corresponding mutant virus PR8 Y89F [multiplicity of infection (moi) = 5] or were left uninfected for 8 hours, and were subsequently harvested. Cell lysates were subjected to immunoprecipitation (IP) using an anti-A/NS1 antibody. As control, mouse serum was used for immunoprecipitation. Co-immunoprecipitated p85β was detected using Western blot analysis. Levels of equal protein precipitation of A/NS1 in the immunoprecipitates were verified using specific antibodies. A/NS1 and endogenous p85β of crude cell lysates served as control. B: A549 cells were infected with PR8 wt or PR8 Y89F virus (moi = 5) for the times indicated or were left uninfected. Phosphorylated Akt (pS473) was detected using Western blot analysis. Viral protein synthesis was visualized using A/NS1 Western blot analysis. Equal protein loads were verified using Akt and ERK2 antibodies. C and D: A549 cells were infected with PR8 wt or PR8 Y89F virus [moi = 0.01 (C) and moi = 5 (D)]. C: At 8, 24, and 32 hours after infection, supernatants were collected and assayed for progeny virus yields in standard plaque titrations. D: At 8 hours after infection, the mRNA levels of IFN-β and IL-6 were measured using real-time qPCR and depicted as n-fold of the uninfected sample. The housekeeping gene GAPDH served as internal standard. E: At 24 hours after transfection with plasmids encoding PR8-NS1-wt and PR8-NS1-Y89F, or empty vector for control, A549 cells were transfected with virion-extracted vRNA. At 6 hours after transfection, mRNA levels of IFN-β and IL-6 were measured using real-time qPCR and visualized as n-fold of the empty vector transfected and unstimulated samples. The housekeeping gene GAPDH served as internal standard. F: Upper panel: ASB XIV cells (murine lung epithelial cell line) were infected with PR8 wt or PR8 Y89F virus (moi = 5) for 8 hours or were left uninfected. Phosphorylated Akt (pS473) was detected using Western blot analysis. Viral protein synthesis was visualized using A/NS1 Western blot analysis. Equal protein loads were verified using Akt and ERK2 antibodies. Lower panel: ASB XIV cells were infected with PR8 wt or PR8 Y89F virus (moi = 0.1). At 8 and 24 hours after infection, supernatants were collected and assayed for progeny virus yields in standard plaque titrations.

      Mutation Y89F within A/NS1 Strongly Reduces Virulence in an in Vivo Mouse Model

      Our results clearly confirm previous findings about the growth disadvantage of an A/NS1 Y89F mutant IAV virus in cell culture experiments.
      • Hale B.G.
      • Jackson D.
      • Chen Y.H.
      • Lamb R.A.
      • Randall R.E.
      Influenza A virus NS1 protein binds p85beta and activates phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase signaling.
      Nevertheless, until now, no in vivo data existed about the effect of this SH2bm on IAV virulence.
      Using the mouse infection model, we investigated the virulence of the PR8 Y89F virus in comparison with the corresponding PR8 wt virus by analyzing weight loss and lethality after infection. Using an intranasal infectious dose of 103 PFU per mouse, all mice survived when infected with PR8 Y89F, in contrast to 100% lethality after infection with the PR8 wt virus (Figure 2A). Correspondingly, animals infected with wild-type virus lost weight consistently from day 3 until death (data not shown). In strong contrast, mice infected with the PR8 Y89F virus started to lose weight at day 5, to a maximum loss of approximately 15%, on average, followed by weight gain starting on day 9 and reaching the starting weight at day 15 (data not shown). The MLD50 obtained for the PR8 wt virus was 102.5, in contrast to 104.7 for the PR8 Y89F mutant virus, clearly illustrating the large difference in virulence (Figure 2B).
      Figure thumbnail gr2
      Figure 2Mutation Y89F within A/NS1 significantly decreases virulence in mice. A and B: Five mice per group were infected intranasally with 103 PFU/mouse (A) or 102 to 106 PFU/mouse (B) of PR8 wt or mutant virus PR8 Y89F, and were monitored for survival for 15 days. A: Kaplan-Meier survival curve analysis was performed using the log rank test; the statistical significance of the differences (*P < 0.05). B: Results of the various investigated virus dosages are depicted as number of surviving mice/number of infected mice. The mouse lethal dose (MLD50) was calculated according to the protocol of Reed and Muench protocol.
      • Reed L.J.
      • Muench H.
      A simple method of estimating fifty percent endpoints.
      C and D: Eight (C) or nine (D) mice per group were infected intranasally with PR8 wt or PR8 Y89F virus (103 PFU). Virus titers of infected lungs were determined at 1, 3, and 5 days after infection in standard plaque titrations (C), and virus titers in BALF were assayed at 3 and 5 days after infection (D). Each dot represents the result of one mouse, and gray bars indicate the mean of all mice per group. Statistical significance of the differences was assessed using the t test. *P < 0.05.
      In addition, we measured the accumulation of virus particles in the entire lung and the BALF. Our data revealed a significantly reduced amount of progeny virus in the lungs (Figure 2C) and BALF (Figure 2D) of PR8 Y89F–infected animals at all times investigated. Hence, our data illustrate a dramatic decrease in virulence accompanied by a strong reduction in progeny virus titers as a consequence of a single point mutation in A/NS1 that disrupts the SH2bm of the protein.

      Cytokine and Chemokine Levels in the Lung Almost Reflect Virus Replication

      Many previous studies have investigated the onset and severity of cytokine and chemokine expression in response to IAV infection. In addition to findings that demonstrated a timely interplay of IAV infection and cytokine and chemokine profiles,
      • Hayden F.G.
      • Fritz R.
      • Lobo M.C.
      • Alvord W.
      • Strober W.
      • Straus S.E.
      Local and systemic cytokine responses during experimental human influenza A virus infection: relation to symptom formation and host defense.
      • Skoner D.P.
      • Gentile D.A.
      • Patel A.
      • Doyle W.J.
      Evidence for cytokine mediation of disease expression in adults experimentally infected with influenza A virus.
      • Kaiser L.
      • Fritz R.S.
      • Straus S.E.
      • Gubareva L.
      • Hayden F.G.
      Symptom pathogenesis during acute influenza: interleukin-6 and other cytokine responses.
      several studies have focused on the effect of cytokine responses on disease symptoms and host defense, in particular H5N1 infection.
      • Beigel J.H.
      • Farrar J.
      • Han A.M.
      • Hayden F.G.
      • Hyer R.
      • de Jong M.D.
      • Lochindarat S.
      • Nguyen T.K.
      • Nguyen T.H.
      • Tran T.H.
      • Nicoll A.
      • Touch S.
      • Yuen K.Y.
      Avian influenza A (H5N1) infection in humans.
      • de Jong M.D.
      • Simmons C.P.
      • Thanh T.T.
      • Hien V.M.
      • Smith G.J.
      • Chau T.N.
      • Hoang D.M.
      • Chau N.V.
      • Khanh T.H.
      • Dong V.C.
      • Qui P.T.
      • Cam B.V.
      • Ha do Q.
      • Guan Y.
      • Peiris J.S.
      • Chinh N.T.
      • Hien T.T.
      • Farrar J.
      Fatal outcome of human influenza A (H5N1) is associated with high viral load and hypercytokinemia.
      Therefore, we investigated the expression of several cytokines and chemokines in mouse lungs infected with PR8 wt virus and the mutant PR8 Y89F virus at different times after infection (days 1, 3, and 5). At day 1, we observed a marginal increase in mRNA levels after infection with the PR8 Y89F virus, although the differences were too small to be statistically significant (Figure 3). On days 3 and 5 after infection, the mRNA levels of all investigated cytokines and chemokines were increased after infection with both the wild-type virus and the PR8 Y89F virus when compared with the PBS-injected control mice, reaching a plateau between day 3 and 5 after inoculation. On day 3 after infection, we found a statistically significant increase in levels of MCP 1, TNF-α, MIP-1α, and MIP-1β mRNA after infection with the PR8 wt virus (Figure 3). Considered together, our data demonstrate a correlation between progeny virus titers (Figure 2) and the corresponding up-regulation of cytokine and chemokine mRNA levels (Figure 3), without any evidence for increased or accelerated induction of immunity on PR8 Y89F virus infection as an explanation for the reduced virus accumulation.
      Figure thumbnail gr3
      Figure 3Cytokine and chemokine production is decreased in PR8 Y89F virus–infected lungs. Ten mice per group were infected intranasally with 103 PFU of PR8 wt virus or the mutant virus PR8 Y89F, or PBS for control. On days 1, 3, and 5 after infection, the total lungs were isolated, and the mRNA levels of MCP-1, TNF-α, IL-6, MIP-1α, and MIP-1β were measured using RT-qPCR, depicted as n-fold of the PBS-inoculated mice on day 1. The housekeeping gene GAPDH served as internal standard. Each dot represents the result of one single mouse, and gray bars indicate the mean of all mice per group. Statistical significance of the differences was assessed using the t test. *P < 0.05, with Bonferroni correction for multiple comparisons. WT, wild type.

      Migration of Immune Cells into the Airways of Mice Infected with Wild-Type Virus Is Increased as Compared with Mice Infected with PR8 Y89F Virus

      The major function of chemokines such as MCP or MIP-1α is the attraction of immune cells to the site of inflammation.
      • Fernandez E.J.
      • Lolis E.
      Structure, function, and inhibition of chemokines.
      Revealing statistically significantly elevated cytokine and chemokine mRNA levels in mouse lungs infected with PR8 wt virus on day 3 after infection prompted us to focus on the inflammatory status of the infected lungs in more detail. To investigate infiltration of immune cells into the lung, we examined the cellularity of BALF. The BALF was collected on day 3 and 5 after infection, and the total cell count in the BALF was determined after red blood cell lysis. Although, infection with both viruses resulted in increased cellularity in the BALF compared with PBS-infected mice (Figure 4A), the total cellularity was slightly increased after infection with the PR8 wt virus at day 3 after infection (Figure 4A, left panel) and was clearly and statistically significantly enhanced by twofold at 5 days after virus inoculation (Figure 4A, right panel). Following the general investigation of cellularity in BALF, we addressed which specific immune cell populations were altered after infection. Starting with the pool of alveolar macrophages, the primary cell type present in BALF in naïve mice,
      • van Rijt L.S.
      • Prins J.B.
      • Leenen P.J.
      • Thielemans K.
      • de Vries V.C.
      • Hoogsteden H.C.
      • Lambrecht B.N.
      Allergen-induced accumulation of airway dendritic cells is supported by an increase in CD31(hi)Ly-6C(neg) bone marrow precursors in a mouse model of asthma.
      we observed a statistically significant reduction of alveolar macrophages at day 3 (see Supplemental Figure S1 at http://ajp.amjpathol.org) and day 5 after infection (Figure 4B) in BALF from mice infected with PR8 wt virus compared with those infected with PR8 Y89F or PBS. In contrast, cell counts for exudate macrophages and neutrophils were enhanced after infection with PR8 wt virus and PR8 Y89F when compared with those in naïve mice. Comparison of mice infected with PR8 wt virus and PR8 Y89F demonstrated that significantly elevated counts for exudate macrophages (approximately sevenfold) and neutrophils (approximately twofold) were detectible at day 3 (see Supplemental Figure S1 at http://ajp.amjpathol.org) and day 5 (Figure 4B) after infection with wild-type virus, demonstrating that the attraction of phagocytes into the lung was increased. Finally, we investigated the early onset of the adaptive immunity by measuring the numbers of CD3+ CD4+ and CD3+ CD8+ T cells in BALF as performed previously.
      • Roman E.
      • Miller E.
      • Harmsen A.
      • Wiley J.
      • Von Andrian U.H.
      • Huston G.
      • Swain S.L.
      CD4 effector T cell subsets in the response to influenza: heterogeneity, migration, and function.
      • Herold S.
      • Steinmueller M.
      • von Wulffen W.
      • Cakarova L.
      • Pinto R.
      • Pleschka S.
      • Mack M.
      • Kuziel W.A.
      • Corazza N.
      • Brunner T.
      • Seeger W.
      • Lohmeyer J.
      Lung epithelial apoptosis in influenza virus pneumonia: the role of macrophage-expressed TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand.
      • Baumgarth N.
      • Kelso A.
      Functionally distinct T cells in three compartments of the respiratory tract after influenza virus infection.
      This revealed that counts for CD3+ CD4+ and CD3+ CD8+ T cells are equally increased in BALF after PR8 wt and PR8 Y89F virus infection on both day 3 after infection (see Supplemental Figure S1 at http://ajp.amjpathol.org for CD3+ CD8+, and Supplemental Figure S2 at http://ajp.amjpathol.org for CD3+ CD4+) and day 5 after infection (Figure 4B for CD3+ CD8+ and Supplemental Figure S2 at http://ajp.amjpathol.org for CD3+ CD4+). Focusing on the induction of adaptive immunity in more detail, infection of animals with 1xMLD50 resulted in roughly similar weight loss and total cellularity in BALF, but increased counts for CD3+ CD4+ and CD3+ CD8+ T cells in BALF of PR8 Y89F virus–infected mice on day 3 after infection (see Supplemental Figure S3, A–C, at http://ajp.amjpathol.org). The obtained data illustrate that infection with the PR8 wt virus results in increased cellularity in BALF compared with PR8 Y89F infection and that, in particular, migration of phagocytes such as exudate macrophages and neutrophils into the lung is increased, highlighting increased inflammatory responses in lungs after infection with the PR8 wt virus.
      Figure thumbnail gr4
      Figure 4Infiltration of immune cells in BALF is increased after PR8 wt virus infection. A and B: Nine mice per group were infected intranasally with 103 PFU PR8 wt virus or mutant virus PR8 Y89F. PBS-inoculated mice served as control. Bronchoalveolar lavage was performed on day 3 (A) and 5 (A and B) after infection. A: After lysis of red blood cells, the total cell count of BALF was determined; mean values of all mice per group are shown. B: The mouse BALF was assayed via flow cytometry for the number of alveolar macrophages, exudate macrophages, neutrophils, and CD3+ CD8+ T cells. Each dot represents the result of one single mouse, and gray bars indicate the mean of all mice per group. Statistical significance of the differences was assessed using the t test. *P < 0.05, with Bonferroni correction for multiple comparisons.

      Markers for Pathologic Changes in the Lung Are Increased after Infection with PR8 wt Virus Compared with Infection with PR8 Y89F Virus

      Host immune reactions must maintain a balance between protection of the infected individual and immunopathology.
      • Peiris J.
      • Hui K.P.
      • Yen H.L.
      Host response to influenza virus: protection versus immunopathology.
      Several previous reports have proposed the massive infiltration of exudate macrophages and neutrophils as a cause of immunopathologic changes in the lung, ultimately leading to death.
      • Herold S.
      • Steinmueller M.
      • von Wulffen W.
      • Cakarova L.
      • Pinto R.
      • Pleschka S.
      • Mack M.
      • Kuziel W.A.
      • Corazza N.
      • Brunner T.
      • Seeger W.
      • Lohmeyer J.
      Lung epithelial apoptosis in influenza virus pneumonia: the role of macrophage-expressed TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand.
      • Lin K.L.
      • Suzuki Y.
      • Nakano H.
      • Ramsburg E.
      • Gunn M.D.
      CCR2+ monocyte-derived dendritic cells and exudate macrophages produce influenza-induced pulmonary immune pathology and mortality.
      • Crowe C.R.
      • Chen K.
      • Pociask D.A.
      • Alcorn J.F.
      • Krivich C.
      • Enelow R.I.
      • Ross T.M.
      • Witztum J.L.
      • Kolls J.K.
      Critical role of IL-17RA in immunopathology of influenza infection.
      Furthermore, influenza virus infection itself leads to cytolytic death of infected cells at 20 to 40 hours after infection.
      • Julkunen I.
      • Sareneva T.
      • Pirhonen J.
      • Ronni T.
      • Melen K.
      • Matikainen S.
      Molecular pathogenesis of influenza A virus infection and virus-induced regulation of cytokine gene expression.
      Therefore, we sought to determine whether the observed decrease in virus accumulation and inflammation after PR8 Y89F virus infection results in reduced levels of lung injury. Measurement of total protein concentration in BALF as a marker for alveolar-capillary leakage revealed increased evidence for lung injury on day 3, which was even more pronounced and statistically significant on day 5, in mice infected with the PR8 wt virus (Figure 5A). Consistent with enhanced concentrations of total protein in BALF, the level of LDH as a marker for tissue damage
      • Crowe C.R.
      • Chen K.
      • Pociask D.A.
      • Alcorn J.F.
      • Krivich C.
      • Enelow R.I.
      • Ross T.M.
      • Witztum J.L.
      • Kolls J.K.
      Critical role of IL-17RA in immunopathology of influenza infection.
      • Drent M.
      • Cobben N.A.
      • Henderson R.F.
      • Wouters E.F.
      • van Dieijen-Visser M.
      Usefulness of lactate dehydrogenase and its isoenzymes as indicators of lung damage or inflammation.
      • Suliman H.B.
      • Ryan L.K.
      • Bishop L.
      • Folz R.J.
      Prevention of influenza-induced lung injury in mice overexpressing extracellular superoxide dismutase.
      was also significantly higher (Figure 5B). These data provide evidence for a correlation between decreased lung pathology and decreased death of PR8 Y89F–infected mice.
      Figure thumbnail gr5
      Figure 5Less severe pathologic changes in PR8 Y89F–infected mouse lungs. A and B: Five mice per group were infected intranasally with 103 PFU PR8 wt virus or mutant virus PR8 Y89F, or PBS for control. At 3 and 5 days after inoculation, BALF was collected. Measurement of total protein concentration via the Bradford assay (A) and LDH concentration via lactate dehydrogenase assay (B) served as markers for pathologic changes in the lung. Mean values of all mice per group are shown. Statistical significance of the differences was assessed using the t test. *P < 0.05, with Bonferroni correction for multiple comparisons.

      Strong Restriction of Virus Spread in the Lungs of PR8 Y89F–Infected Mice

      After identifying less severe pathologic changes on the level of total protein and LDH concentration in BALF (Figure 5), we performed histologic examinations of infected mouse lungs on days 3 and 5 after infection. Initially, we focused on the total distribution of IAV antigen in the entire lung. Examination of antigen-positive areas revealed that the extent of virus spread in the entire lungs was markedly reduced in PR8 Y89F–infected mice on both day 3 and day 5 after infection (Figure 6A). Quantifying the mean of antigen-positive areas as a percentage of the total lung field illustrated the dramatic differences in virus distribution between PR8 wt virus and the mutant virus. Almost 90% of the lung field in mice infected with the PR8 wt virus was antigen positive for IAV, compared with approximately 35% of the lung field in PR8 Y89F virus–infected mice on day 5 after infection (Figure 6B).
      Figure thumbnail gr6
      Figure 6Total virus distribution is attenuated in PR8 Y89F virus–infected mouse lungs. A: Four mice per group were infected intranasally with 103 PFU PR8 wt virus or mutant virus PR8 Y89F. PBS-inoculated mice served as control. At 3 and 5 days after infection, the lungs were harvested, fixed, embedded, sectioned, and stained IHC with an antibody against anti-influenza A (H1N1) to determine the distribution of influenza virus antigen in the entire lung. Hematoxylin served as counterstaining for IHC staining. Representative images for each group are shown. B: For quantification of the extent of viral infection in the lungs, digital images of stained whole lung sections of all four mice per group were captured (×20 magnification), and both uninfected and virus-positive regions were outlined manually and areas determined using Aperio ImageScope software. Mean values for all mice per group are shown. Statistical significance of the differences was assessed using the t test. *P < 0.05.

      Mutation Y89F in A/NS1 Results in Restricted Tropism and Strongly Decreased Pathologic Alterations in Mouse Lung

      The observed attenuated spread of the PR8 Y89F virus prompted us to investigate the epithelial cell tropism of the PR8 wt and the PR8 Y89F viruses. In addition, we focused on examining pathologic changes within the lung on days 3 and 5 after infection. In lungs infected with PR8 wt virus, necrotizing lesions and viral antigen were already observed in all areas of the trachea, bronchi and bronchioles, and alveoli at day 3 after infection (see Supplemental Figure S4 at http://ajp.amjpathol.org). In contrast, we found that the extent and severity of influenza infection and associated pulmonary pathology was much milder in lungs of mice infected with PR8 Y89F virus (see Supplemental Figure S4 at http://ajp.amjpathol.org). The inflammatory infiltrates in PR8 Y89F–infected mice often formed prominent perivascular cuffs, which primarily consisted of lymphocytes rather than the macrophages and granulocytes that were predominant in the lungs infected with PR8 wt virus. Another striking difference observed in the lungs of PR8 Y89F–infected mice was the absence of degeneration and necrosis in the pseudostratified respiratory epithelium of the trachea and the bronchi and bronchioles, which was associated with near absence of viral antigen in these cells. In contrast, no notable differences in virus tropism were detected in alveoli, where virus antigen was widely distributed in type II pneumocytes and macrophages in both lungs infected with wild-type and mutant virus (see Supplemental Figure S4 at http://ajp.amjpathol.org).
      By day 5 after infection, lesions in PR8 wt virus–infected lungs were similar in most respects to those observed on day 3 after infection, but were more extensive than those observed at the earlier time and involved most of the lung parenchyma (Figure 7). At day 5 after infection, almost all bronchioles showed some degree of degenerative and necrotic changes, which ranged from cytoplasmic vacuolization and nuclear pyknosis to severe attenuation or loss of respiratory epithelium (Figure 7). In many bronchioles, necrosis of respiratory epithelium resulted in areas that showed mixtures of denudation, attenuation, regeneration, and squamous metaplasia of surviving respiratory epithelium. In most bronchioles, influenza virus antigen was detected in almost all remaining respiratory epithelial cells and within necrotic lumen contents. Although the extent and severity of PR8 Y89F infection and the associated pulmonary pathology increased markedly between day 3 and day 5 after infection, the outcome was still much milder and more localized than in lungs infected with the wild-type virus (Figure 7). In contrast to marked necrotizing bronchiolitis in the PR8 wt virus–infected lungs, there was a striking absence of degeneration and necrosis in the epithelium of the trachea and bronchi and bronchioles in PR8 Y89F–infected lungs. In addition, all tracheal and bronchial airway epithelium was negative for viral antigen, and almost all bronchioles were also histologically normal and negative for virus antigen. A few scattered bronchioles contained variable numbers of respiratory epithelial cells that were positive for virus antigen; however, these showed no signs of degeneration or necrosis, although some bronchiolar epithelium was slightly hypertrophic (Figure 7).
      Figure thumbnail gr7
      Figure 7Epithelial cell tropism and lung pathology are limited in PR8 Y89F virus–infected mice. Four mice per group were infected intranasally with 103 PFU PR8 wt virus or mutant virus PR8 Y89F, or PBS for control. At 5 days after infection, the lungs were fixed, embedded, sectioned, and stained with H&E for histologic analysis. Serial sections were stained at IHC with an antibody against anti-influenza A (H1N1) to assay the influenza virus antigen distribution along the respiratory epithelium. Hematoxylin served as counterstain for IHC staining. Representative images for each group are shown (×60 magnification except the bronchiole section IHC staining ×40 magnification). Arrows indicate significant pathologic alterations in lungs infected with PR8 wt.
      Alveolar lesions were distributed throughout the lung after PR8 wt virus infection, but varied in severity. Virus antigen was widely dispersed in alveoli, diffusely lining all alveolar surfaces, but was highly concentrated in type II pneumocytes and alveolar macrophages. In virus-positive areas, alveoli typically contained necrotic cell debris and inflammatory cell infiltrates, which consisted largely of neutrophils and macrophages. In many areas, the extensive alveolitis was characterized by thickened septae and widespread necrosis and sloughing of alveolar lining cells, with associated hyaline membrane formation (Figure 7). In contrast to the wild-type virus, the overall extent of infection and alveolitis was relatively mild in PR8 Y89F virus–infected lungs, with viral antigen present within alveolar macrophages and both type I and type II pneumocytes in the affected alveoli. Nevertheless, the degree of lymphocytic inflammation in perivascular space and septae was greatly increased when compared with the wild-type virus (Figure 7). Moreover, these inflammatory infiltrates contained relatively few macrophages and granulocytes, with the reduced numbers of neutrophils in the interstitium, bronchioles, and alveoli, which correlated with the marked reduction in numbers of necrotic epithelial cells in airways and alveoli.
      Considered together, our results clearly show that the SH2bm within A/NS1 of IAV is unambiguously crucial for virus virulence in an in vivo mouse model. Thus, we identified the SH2bm within A/NS1 as an essential motif for the A/NS1 to fulfill its functions as a major pathogenicity determinant of IAV.

      Discussion

      The ongoing potential of IAV to cause seasonal epidemics classifies IAV as a major threat to health in humans. Amplifying this concern as a life-threatening agent, outbreaks such as the 2009 pandemic H1N1 virus or human infections with highly virulent H5N1 variants clearly emphasize the need for further knowledge about the biologic characteristics of influenza virus infections. The NS1 protein of IAV (A/NS1) is considered as a crucial pathogenicity determinant,
      • Hale B.G.
      • Randall R.E.
      • Ortin J.
      • Jackson D.
      The multifunctional NS1 protein of influenza A viruses.
      • Gambotto A.
      • Barratt-Boyes S.M.
      • de Jong M.D.
      • Neumann G.
      • Kawaoka Y.
      Human infection with highly pathogenic H5N1 influenza virus.
      and is well studied as a blocker of host signaling to limit the cellular immune response. Several studies of the immunosuppressive properties of A/NS1 have suggested that direct binding of A/NS1 to cellular proteins is one mechanism of A/NS1 action.
      • Gack M.U.
      • Albrecht R.A.
      • Urano T.
      • Inn K.S.
      • Huang I.C.
      • Carnero E.
      • Farzan M.
      • Inoue S.
      • Jung J.U.
      • Garcia-Sastre A.
      Influenza A virus NS1 targets the ubiquitin ligase TRIM25 to evade recognition by the host viral RNA sensor RIG-I.
      • Tan S.L.
      • Katze M.G.
      Biochemical and genetic evidence for complex formation between the influenza A virus NS1 protein and the interferon-induced PKR protein kinase.
      • Li S.
      • Min J.Y.
      • Krug R.M.
      • Sen G.C.
      Binding of the influenza A virus NS1 protein to PKR mediates the inhibition of its activation by either PACT or double-stranded RNA.
      As a result of these studies, binding of A/NS1 to cellular proteins and the binding motifs involved
      • Ehrhardt C.
      • Ludwig S.
      A new player in a deadly game: influenza viruses and the PI3K/Akt signalling pathway.
      have become topics of major interest. The A/NS1 protein carries an RNA-binding domain and several protein–protein interaction motifs including three src homology binding motifs, that is, one SH2bm and two SH3bm.
      • Ehrhardt C.
      • Ludwig S.
      A new player in a deadly game: influenza viruses and the PI3K/Akt signalling pathway.
      SH2 and SH3 domains are common protein interaction motifs involved in cellular signal transduction. SH3 domains interact with proteins carrying proline-rich motifs (SH3bm), whereas phosphotyrosine residues carrying motifs (SH2bm) bind to SH2 domains.
      • Birge R.B.
      • Knudsen B.S.
      • Besser D.
      • Hanafusa H.
      SH2 and SH3-containing adaptor proteins: redundant or independent mediators of intracellular signal transduction.
      Several studies have focused on the effect of A/NS1 SHbm on A/NS1 functions and/or IAV virulence.
      • Hale B.G.
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      • Chen Y.H.
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      Taking into account that the SH2bm within A/NS1 is highly conserved, even including all highly pathogenic human H5 strains and 2009 pandemic H1N1 strains, we focused on the effect of this binding motif in IAV virulence.
      Impairing the well-described interaction of A/NS1 and the regulatory subunit p85β of PI3K,
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      Influenza A virus NS1 protein binds p85beta and activates phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase signaling.
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      The present study contributes to understanding of the role of A/NS1 SH2bm in IAV pathogenicity in vivo.
      To clarify the in vivo events that are the basis of the strongly reduced virulence of PR8 Y89F virus, we focused on induction of immunity after infection of mice. The reduced cytokine and chemokine induction on day 3 after infection correlated with reduced virus titers in lungs infected with PR8 Y89F. Total cellularity of BALF was reduced after infection with the mutant virus, indicating that the enhanced virulence of the PR8 wt virus is accompanied by a strong influx of immune cells to the lung. Analysis of the cellular composition of the BALF revealed that the pool of resident alveolar macrophages was significantly reduced, and the counts for exudate macrophages and neutrophils were significantly increased after PR8 wt virus infection, together illustrating an increased inflammatory response in the lungs infected with PR8 wt. The turnover of macrophages in the inflamed lung was investigated earlier, illustrating depletion of alveolar macrophages and recruitment of exudate macrophages after inflammation induction.
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      demonstrated partial reduction of alveolar macrophage counts and the recruitment of exudate macrophages and neutrophils in BALF after IAV infection as well. Furthermore, histologic analyses of infected lungs confirmed the highly increased numbers of macrophages and neutrophils in lungs infected with the wild-type virus. Collectively, our data argue for an interplay of increased virus accumulation, leading to increased cytokine and chemokine induction and enhanced infiltration of immune cells into the inflamed lung after infection with PR8 wt virus compared with PR8 Y89F virus.
      With respect to induction of adaptive immunity, lymphocytes migrate into the BALF and lung interstitium after influenza virus infection.
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      No differences in counts for CD3+ CD4+ and CD3+ CD8+ T cells in BALF were observed between PR8 wt and PR8 Y89F infections. Nevertheless, by analyzing histologic sections of infected lungs, an increased number of lymphocytes infiltrating the lung interstitium in PR8 Y89F virus–infected mice was observed, which correlated with slightly elevated migration of CD11c+ dendritic cells from the lungs to draining lymph nodes (data not shown). Finally, 1xMLD50 infections resulted in increased counts for CD3+ CD4+ and CD3+ CD8+ T cells in BALF from PR8 Y89F virus–infected mice. Taken together, we hypothesize that there is an effect of the mutation Y89F within A/NS1 on the described suppressive properties of A/NS1 on induction of adaptive immunity.
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      In addition, infiltration of exudate macrophages and neutrophils into the lung of IAV-infected animals could be linked to immunopathologic alterations.
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      CCR2+ monocyte-derived dendritic cells and exudate macrophages produce influenza-induced pulmonary immune pathology and mortality.
      • Crowe C.R.
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      Critical role of IL-17RA in immunopathology of influenza infection.
      Total protein and LDH as markers for pathologic changes in the lung were increased in animals infected with the wild-type virus, providing first evidence for increased pathologic tissue alterations. Furthermore, massive differences in the severity of disease between PR8 wt and PR8 Y89F virus infection were observed at histologic analysis. Most impressive, wild-type virus infections produced degenerative and necrotic changes to the point of loss of respiratory epithelium in almost all bronchioles, in contrast to the striking absence of degeneration and necrosis in the epithelium of the trachea and the bronchi and bronchioles in PR8 Y89F–infected lungs. Furthermore, the extensive alveolitis in PR8 wt virus–infected lungs, which is accompanied by pathologic changes such as hyaline membrane formation, as described earlier,
      • Fukushi M.
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      was much less severe in A/NS1 mutant virus–infected lungs.
      In addition to the reduced severity of pathologic changes, the extent of PR8 Y89F virus spread in the mouse lung was decreased, and cellular tropism was strongly restricted to alveoli, essentially sparing bronchiolar epithelium. The hemagglutinin surface protein of influenza viruses is responsible for the receptor binding specificities (α-2,3 or α-2,6 sialic acid), regulating virus tropism.
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      The role of interferon in influenza virus tissue tropism.
      or, as recently published, A/NS1.
      • Spesock A.
      • Malur M.
      • Hossain M.J.
      • Chen L.M.
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      • Davis C.T.
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      This argues for a potential indirect role of A/NS1 in regulating virus spread and, thereby, lung epithelial tropism in the present study. In support of this hypothesis, the pattern of infected type II pneumocytes suggests slower spread of the attenuated A/NS1 mutant between alveoli, which could be the result of decreased virus replication. The few areas of PR8 Y89F virus antigen–positive bronchiolar epithelial cells were limited to the most severely affected regions of the lung, which suggests that even these cells are susceptible to infection with the attenuated PR8 Y89F virus if the virus load is sufficiently high. Based on findings of histologic analyses, we believe that the greater extent of virus antigen–positive cells and more severe lesions in PR8 wt virus–infected lungs account for the increased virulence and lethality associated with infection with the PR8 wt virus. The increased pathogenicity after infection with the wild-type virus is most likely based on two interlinked chains of events. First, the increased replication capacity and spread of the PR8 wt virus itself directly results in pathology, for example, the necrosis and, thereby, destruction of the bronchiolar epithelium. Second, the increased infiltration of exudate macrophages and neutrophils in the lung after infection with PR8 wt virus also may contribute to lung disease via deployment of immunopathologic changes, as also observed in earlier studies.
      • Herold S.
      • Steinmueller M.
      • von Wulffen W.
      • Cakarova L.
      • Pinto R.
      • Pleschka S.
      • Mack M.
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      • Corazza N.
      • Brunner T.
      • Seeger W.
      • Lohmeyer J.
      Lung epithelial apoptosis in influenza virus pneumonia: the role of macrophage-expressed TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand.
      • Lin K.L.
      • Suzuki Y.
      • Nakano H.
      • Ramsburg E.
      • Gunn M.D.
      CCR2+ monocyte-derived dendritic cells and exudate macrophages produce influenza-induced pulmonary immune pathology and mortality.
      • Crowe C.R.
      • Chen K.
      • Pociask D.A.
      • Alcorn J.F.
      • Krivich C.
      • Enelow R.I.
      • Ross T.M.
      • Witztum J.L.
      • Kolls J.K.
      Critical role of IL-17RA in immunopathology of influenza infection.
      Thus, with regard to the effect of SH2bm disruption on virus virulence, we hypothesize that in a first line, the reduced virus replication and virus spread directly accounts for the diminished pathogenicity and lethality. In addition, the mutation Y89F could also lead to impaired suppressive action of A/NS1 on adaptive immunity by hampering interactions with SH2 domain carrying cellular proteins such as PI3K. It should be mentioned in this context that several previous publications have linked PI3K to immune regulatory functions.
      • Hrincius E.R.
      • Dierkes R.
      • Anhlan D.
      • Wixler V.
      • Ludwig S.
      • Ehrhardt C.
      Phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase (PI3K) is activated by influenza virus vRNA via the pathogen pattern receptor Rig-I to promote efficient type I interferon production.
      • Fukao T.
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      PI3K and negative regulation of TLR signaling.
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      • Robbins S.M.
      • Downey C.M.
      • Guan Z.
      • Colarusso P.
      • Miller B.J.
      • Jirik F.R.
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      PTEN functions to “prioritize” chemotactic cues and prevent “distraction” in migrating neutrophils.
      • Robertson L.K.
      • Mireau L.R.
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      A role for phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase in TCR-stimulated ERK activation leading to paxillin phosphorylation and CTL degranulation.
      In summary, our data demonstrate for the first time that the highly conserved SH2bm of A/NS1 has an impressive effect on IAV virulence in vivo. These data contribute to the understanding of the essential role of A/NS1 functions as a regulator of virus virulence, further fostering A/NS1 as a suitable target for antiviral interventions.

      Acknowledgments

      We thank Amy R. Iverson and Hazem Ghoneim for technical advice and Swantje Liedmann for helpful comments about the manuscript.

      Supplementary data

      • Supplemental Figure S1

        Immune cell infiltration in BALF is elevated after PR8 wt infection on day 3 after infection. Nine mice per group were infected intranasally with 103 PFU PR8 wt virus or PR8 Y89F. PBS-inoculated mice served as control. Three days after infection, bronchoalveolar lavage was performed, and red blood cells were lysed. The BALF was assayed at flow-cytometry for the number of alveolar macrophages, exudate macrophages, neutrophils, and CD3+ CD8+ T cells. Each dot represents the result of one single mouse, and gray bars indicate the mean of all mice per group. Statistical significance of the differences was assessed using the t test. *P < 0.05, with Bonferroni correction for multiple comparisons.

      • Supplemental Figure S2

        Comparable migration of CD3+ CD4+ T cells in BALF after wild-type and PR8 Y89F infection. Nine mice per group were infected intranasally with 103 PFU PR8 wt virus or PR8 Y89F, or PBS for control. Bronchoalveolar lavage was performed at 3 and 5 days after infection. After red blood cell lysis, BALF was assayed at flow-cytometry for the number of CD3+ CD4+ T cells. Each dot represents the result of one single mouse, and gray bars indicate the mean of all mice per group. Statistical significance of the differences was assessed using the t test. P < 0.05, with Bonferroni correction for multiple comparisons.

      • Supplemental Figure S3

        Increased counts for lymphocytes after 1×MLD50 infection with PR8 Y89F virus compared with wild-type virus. Four mice per group were infected intranasally with 1×MLD50 PFU PR8 wt virus (102.5 PFU) or PR8 Y89F (104.7 PFU). PBS-infected mice served as control. A: Body weight of the infected mice was monitored for 3 days, and mean values of all mice per group are shown. B and C: Three days after infection, bronchoalveolar-lavage was performed, and red blood cells were lysed. B: The total cell count of the BALF was determined, and mean values of all mice per group are shown. C: BALF was assayed at flow-cytometry for the number of CD3+ CD4+ and CD3+ CD8+ T cells. Each dot represents the result of one single mouse, and gray bars indicate the mean of all mice per group. Statistical significance of the differences was assessed using the t test. P < 0.05, with Bonferroni correction for multiple comparisons.

      • Supplemental Figure S4

        Limited epithelial cell tropism and pathologic findings in PR8 Y89F–infected lungs at day 3 after infection. Four mice per group were infected intranasally with 103 PFU PR8 wt virus or PR8 Y89F, or PBS for control. Lungs were fixed, embedded, sectioned, and stained with H&E for histologic evaluation at 3 days after infection. By using an antibody against anti-influenza A (H1N1), serial sections were stained IHC to assay the influenza virus antigen distribution along the respiratory epithelium, with hematoxylin as counterstain for IHC staining. Sections of bronchi, bronchioles, and alveoli were stained with hematoxylin (upper panel) and IHC (lower panel). Representative images for each group are shown (60× magnification except the bronchiole section IHC staining 40× magnification).

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