Influenza A viruses (IAV) are significant human pathogens causing yearly epidemics and occasional pandemics. Past pandemics have resulted in significant morbidity and mortality. The 1918 influenza pandemic was thought to have resulted in the death of at least 675,000 people in the U.S., and 40 million people worldwide. Pandemics in 1957 and 1968, while less severe, were also of major public health importance. A novel influenza A virus of swine origin became pandemic in 2009, causing the first pandemic in 41 years. The virus has spread efficiently to both the Northern and the Southern Hemispheres and has been associated with over 16,000 deaths. Given the virus'recent zoonotic origin, there has been concern that the virus could acquire signature mutations associated with the enhanced pathogenicity of previous pandemic viruses or H5N1 viruses with pandemic potential. We tested the hypothesis that mutations in the polymerase PB2 gene at residues 627 and 701 would enhance virulence but found that influenza viruses containing these mutations in the context of the pandemic virus polymerase complex are attenuated in cell culture and mice. Influenza A virus (IAV) evolution is characterized by host-specific lineages, and IAVs derived in whole or in part from animal reservoirs have caused pandemics in humans. Because IAVs are known to acquire host-adaptive genome mutations, and since the PB2 gene of the 2009 H1N1 virus is of recent avian derivation, there exists concern that the pathogenicity of the 2009 H1N1 influenza A pandemic virus could be potentiated by acquisition of the host-adaptive PB2-E627K or -D701N mutations, which have been shown to enhance the virulence of other influenza viruses. We evaluated influenza viral infections in a mouse model which showed that these mutations did not increase the virulence of viruses containing the 2009 H1N1 viral polymerase. This further supports the importance of historical contingency in the development and evolution of novel influenza viruses. The 2009 H1N1 pandemic emerged even though seasonal H1N1 viruses have circulated for decades. Epidemiological evidence suggested that the current seasonal vaccine did not offer significant protection from the novel pandemic, and that people over the age of 50 might were less susceptible to infection. In a mouse challenge study with the 2009 pandemic H1N1 virus, we evaluated protective immune responses elicited by prior infection with human and swine influenza A viruses. Mice infected with A/Mexico/4108/2009 (Mex09) showed significant weight loss and 40% mortality. Prior infection with a 1976 classical swine H1N1 virus resulted in complete protection from Mex09 challenge. Prior infection with either a 2009 or a 1940 seasonal H1N1 influenza virus provided partial protection and a >100-fold reduction in viral lung titers at day 4 post-infection. In conclusion, these findings indicated that in experimental animals recently induced immunity to 1918-derived H1N1 seasonal influenza viruses, and to a 1976 swine influenza virus, afford a degree of protection against the 2009 pandemic virus. These data have epidemiological implications suggesting partial protection of older persons during the 2009 pandemic.
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