The cleavage motif in the hemagglutinin (HA) protein of highly pathogenic H5 and H7 subtypes of avian influenza viruses is characterized by a peptide insertion or a multibasic cleavage site (MBCS). Here, we isolated an H4N2 virus from quails (Quail/CA12) with two additional arginines in the HA cleavage site, PEK. RRTR/G, forming an MBCS-like motif. Quail/CA12 is a reassortant virus with the HA and neuraminidase (NA) gene most similar to a duck-isolated H4N2 virus, PD/CA06 with a monobasic HA cleavage site. Quail/CA12 required exogenous trypsin for efficient growth in culture and caused no clinical illness in infected chickens. Quail/CA12 had high binding preference for α2,6-linked sialic acids and showed higher replication and transmission ability in chickens and quails than PD/CA06. Although the H4N2 virus remained low pathogenic, these data suggests that the acquisition of MBCS in the field is not restricted to H5 or H7 subtypes.
- Low pathogenic avian influenza
- Multibasic cleavage site
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