Constitutively Expressed IFITM3 Protein in Human Endothelial Cells Poses an Early Infection Block to Human Influenza Viruses.J Virol. 2016 Dec 15; 90(24):11157-11167.JV
A role for pulmonary endothelial cells in the orchestration of cytokine production and leukocyte recruitment during influenza virus infection, leading to severe lung damage, has been recently identified. As the mechanistic pathway for this ability is not fully known, we extended previous studies on influenza virus tropism in cultured human pulmonary endothelial cells. We found that a subset of avian influenza viruses, including potentially pandemic H5N1, H7N9, and H9N2 viruses, could infect human pulmonary endothelial cells (HULEC) with high efficiency compared to human H1N1 or H3N2 viruses. In HULEC, human influenza viruses were capable of binding to host cellular receptors, becoming internalized and initiating hemifusion but failing to uncoat the viral nucleocapsid and to replicate in host nuclei. Unlike numerous cell types, including epithelial cells, we found that pulmonary endothelial cells constitutively express a high level of the restriction protein IFITM3 in endosomal compartments. IFITM3 knockdown by small interfering RNA (siRNA) could partially rescue H1N1 virus infection in HULEC, suggesting IFITM3 proteins were involved in blocking human influenza virus infection in endothelial cells. In contrast, selected avian influenza viruses were able to escape IFITM3 restriction in endothelial cells, possibly by fusing in early endosomes at higher pH or by other, unknown mechanisms. Collectively, our study demonstrates that the human pulmonary endothelium possesses intrinsic immunity to human influenza viruses, in part due to the constitutive expression of IFITM3 proteins. Notably, certain avian influenza viruses have evolved to escape this restriction, possibly contributing to virus-induced pneumonia and severe lung disease in humans.
Avian influenza viruses, including H5N1 and H7N9, have been associated with severe respiratory disease and fatal outcomes in humans. Although acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and progressive pulmonary endothelial damage are known to be present during severe human infections, the role of pulmonary endothelial cells in the pathogenesis of avian influenza virus infections is largely unknown. By comparing human seasonal influenza strains to avian influenza viruses, we provide greater insight into the interaction of influenza virus with human pulmonary endothelial cells. We show that human influenza virus infection is blocked during the early stages of virus entry, which is likely due to the relatively high expression of the host antiviral factors IFITMs (interferon-induced transmembrane proteins) located in membrane-bound compartments inside cells. Overall, this study provides a mechanism by which human endothelial cells limit replication of human influenza virus strains, whereas avian influenza viruses overcome these restriction factors in this cell type.