Receptor binding and pH stability — How influenza A virus hemagglutinin affects host-specific virus infection
C. M. Mair, K. Ludwig, A. Herrmann, C. Sieben – 2014
Influenza A virus strains adopt different host specificities mainly depending on their hemagglutinin (HA) protein. Via HA, the virus binds sialic acid receptors of the host cell and, upon endocytic uptake, HA triggers fusion between the viral envelope bilayer and the endosomal membrane by a low pH-induced conformational change leading to the release of the viral genome into the host cell cytoplasm. Both functions are crucial for viral infection enabling the genesis of new progeny virus. Adaptation to different hosts in vitro was shown to require mutations within HA altering the receptor binding and/or fusion behavior of the respective virus strain. Human adapted influenza virus strains (H1N1, H3N2, H2N2) as well as recent avian influenza virus strains (H5, H7 and H9 subtypes) which gained the ability to infect humans mostly contained mutations in the receptor binding site (RBS) of HA enabling increased binding affinity of these viruses to human type (α-2,6 linked sialic acid) receptors. Thus, the receptor binding specificity seems to be the major requirement for successful adaptation to the human host; however, the RBS is not the only determinant of host specificity. Increased binding to a certain cell type does not always correlate with infection efficiency. Furthermore, viruses carrying mutations in the RBS often resulted in reduced viral fitness and were still unable to transmit between mammals. Recently, the pH stability of HA was reported to affect the transmissibility of influenza viruses. This review summarizes recent findings on the adaptation of influenza A viruses to the human host and related amino acid substitutions resulting in altered receptor binding specificity and/or modulated fusion pH of HA. Furthermore, the role of these properties (receptor specificity and pH stability of HA) for adaptation to and transmissibility in the human host is discussed. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Viral Membrane Protiens -- Channels for Cellular Networking.