The M segment of the 2009 pandemic influenza virus confers increased neuraminidase activity, filamentous morphology, and efficient contact transmissibility to A/Puerto Rico/8/1934-based reassortant viruses.J Virol. 2014 Apr; 88(7):3802-14.JV
The 2009 H1N1 lineage represented the first detection of a novel, highly transmissible influenza A virus genotype: six gene segments originated from the North American triple-reassortant swine lineage, and two segments, NA and M, derived from the Eurasian avian-like swine lineage. As neither parental lineage transmits efficiently between humans, the adaptations and mechanisms underlying the pandemic spread of the swine-origin 2009 strain are not clear. To help identify determinants of transmission, we used reverse genetics to introduce gene segments of an early pandemic isolate, A/Netherlands/602/2009 [H1N1] (NL602), into the background of A/Puerto Rico/8/1934 [H1N1] (PR8) and evaluated the resultant viruses in a guinea pig transmission model. Whereas the NL602 virus spread efficiently, the PR8 virus did not transmit. Swapping of the HA, NA, and M segments of NL602 into the PR8 background yielded a virus with indistinguishable contact transmissibility to the wild-type pandemic strain. Consistent with earlier reports, the pandemic M segment alone accounted for much of the improvement in transmission. To aid in understanding how the M segment might affect transmission, we evaluated neuraminidase activity and virion morphology of reassortant viruses. Transmission was found to correlate with higher neuraminidase activity and a more filamentous morphology. Importantly, we found that introduction of the pandemic M segment alone resulted in an increase in the neuraminidase activity of two pairs of otherwise isogenic PR8-based viruses. Thus, our data demonstrate the surprising result that functions encoded by the influenza A virus M segment impact neuraminidase activity and, perhaps through this mechanism, have a potent effect on transmissibility.
Our work uncovers a previously unappreciated mechanism through which the influenza A virus M segment can alter the receptor-destroying activity of an influenza virus. Concomitant with changes to neuraminidase activity, the M segment impacts the morphology of the influenza A virion and transmissibility of the virus in the guinea pig model. We suggest that changes in NA activity underlie the ability of the influenza M segment to influence virus transmissibility. Furthermore, we show that coadapted M, NA, and HA segments are required to provide optimal transmissibility to an influenza virus. The M-NA functional interaction we describe appears to underlie the prominent role of the 2009 pandemic M segment in supporting efficient transmission and may be a highly important means by which influenza A viruses restore HA/NA balance following reassortment or transfer to new host environments.