Two alleles of segment 8 (NS) circulate in nonchiropteran influenza A viruses. The A allele is found in avian and mammalian viruses, but the B allele is viewed as being almost exclusively found in avian viruses. This might reflect the fact that one or both of its encoded proteins (NS1 and NEP) are maladapted for replication in mammalian hosts. To test this, a number of clade A and B avian virus-derived NS segments were introduced into human H1N1 and H3N2 viruses. In no case was the peak virus titer substantially reduced following infection of various mammalian cell types. Exemplar reassortant viruses also replicated to similar titers in mice, although mice infected with viruses with the avian virus-derived segment 8s had reduced weight loss compared to that achieved in mice infected with the A/Puerto Rico/8/1934 (H1N1) parent. In vitro, the viruses coped similarly with type I interferons. Temporal proteomics analysis of cellular responses to infection showed that the avian virus-derived NS segments provoked lower levels of expression of interferon-stimulated genes in cells than wild type-derived NS segments. Thus, neither the A nor the B allele of avian virus-derived NS segments necessarily attenuates virus replication in a mammalian host, although the alleles can attenuate disease. Phylogenetic analyses identified 32 independent incursions of an avian virus-derived A allele into mammals, whereas 6 introductions of a B allele were identified. However, A-allele isolates from birds outnumbered B-allele isolates, and the relative rates of Aves-to-Mammalia transmission were not significantly different. We conclude that while the introduction of an avian virus segment 8 into mammals is a relatively rare event, the dogma of the B allele being especially restricted is misleading, with implications in the assessment of the pandemic potential of avian influenza viruses.
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