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New biological route for swine flu to human infections
Date:12/10/2009

A new biological pathway by which the H1N1 flu virus can make the jump from swine to humans has been discovered by researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California, Berkeley. Early test results indicate that a heretofore unknown mutation in one of the H1N1 genes may have played an important role in transmitting the virus into humans.

"Transmission of influenza viruses into the human population requires surmounting biological barriers to cross-species infection," says biochemist Jennifer Doudna, the principal investigator for this research. "We have identified an adaptive mutation in the swine origin H1N1 influenza A virus - a pair of amino acid variants termed the 'SR polymorphism' that enhance replication, and potentially pathogenesis of the virus in humans."

Doudna, an authority on RNA molecular structures, holds joint appointments with Berkeley Lab's Physical Biosciences Division, and UC Berkeley's Department of Molecular and Cell Biology and Department of Chemistry. She's also an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). She and Andrew Mehle, a post-doctoral fellow in her research group, have published a paper on this research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) titled: Adaptive strategies of the influenza virus polymerase for replication in humans."

"Our work highlights the importance of basic research in understanding the processes that control emergence of new influenza viruses," Mehle says. "For example, we now have a new genetic marker to monitor that might help predict the ability of influenza viruses to enter the human population."

One way in which an influenza virus surmounts biological barriers to cross-species infection is through a mutational change in its polymerase, the enzyme that enables the virus to replicate. Identifying such mutations is a key to prevent
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Contact: Lynn Yarris
lcyarris@lbl.gov
510-486-5375
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert  

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