Occasional transmission of highly pathogenic avian H5N1 influenza viruses to humans causes severe pneumonia with high mortality. To better understand the mechanisms via which H5N1 viruses induce severe disease in humans, we infected cynomolgus macaques with six different H5N1 strains isolated from human patients and compared their pathogenicity and the global host responses to the virus infection. Although all H5N1 viruses replicated in the respiratory tract, there was substantial heterogeneity in their replicative ability and in the disease severity induced, which ranged from asymptomatic to fatal. A comparison of global gene expression between severe and mild disease cases indicated that interferon-induced upregulation of genes related to innate immunity, apoptosis, and antigen processing/presentation in the early phase of infection was limited in severe disease cases, although interferon expression was upregulated in both severe and mild cases. Furthermore, coexpression analysis of microarray data, which reveals the dynamics of host responses during the infection, demonstrated that the limited expression of these genes early in infection led to a failure to suppress virus replication and to the hyperinduction of genes related to immunity, inflammation, coagulation, and homeostasis in the late phase of infection, resulting in a more severe disease. Our data suggest that the attenuated interferon-induced activation of innate immunity, apoptosis, and antigen presentation in the early phase of H5N1 virus infection leads to subsequent severe disease outcome.
Highly pathogenic avian H5N1 influenza viruses sometimes transmit to humans and cause severe pneumonia with ca. 60% lethality. The continued circulation of these viruses poses a pandemic threat; however, their pathogenesis in mammals is not fully understood. We, therefore, investigated the pathogenicity of six H5N1 viruses and compared the host responses of cynomolgus macaques to the virus infection. We identified differences in the viral replicative ability of and in disease severity caused by these H5N1 viruses. A comparison of global host responses between severe and mild disease cases identified the limited upregulation of interferon-stimulated genes early in infection in severe cases. The dynamics of the host responses indicated that the limited response early in infection failed to suppress virus replication and led to hyperinduction of pathological condition-related genes late in infection. These findings provide insight into the pathogenesis of H5N1 viruses in mammals.
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