Wild birds are the reservoir for low-pathogenic avian influenza viruses, which are frequently transmitted to domestic birds and occasionally to mammals. In 2014, an H10N7 virus caused severe mortality in harbor seals in northeastern Europe. Although the hemagglutinin (HA) of this virus was closely related to H10 of avian H10N4 virus, it possessed unique nonsynonymous mutations, particularly in the HA1 subunit in or adjacent to the receptor binding domain and proteolytic cleavage site. Here, the impact of these mutations on virus replication was studied in vitro. Using reverse genetics, an avian H10N4 virus was cloned, and nine recombinant viruses carrying one of eight unique mutations or the complete HA from the seal virus were rescued. Receptor binding affinity, replication in avian and mammalian cell cultures, cell-to-cell spread, and HA cleavability of these recombinant viruses were studied. Results show that wild-type recombinant H10N4 virus has high affinity to avian-type sialic acid receptors and no affinity to mammalian-type receptors. The H10N7 virus exhibits dual receptor binding affinity. Interestingly, Q220L (H10 numbering) in the rim of the receptor binding pocket increased the affinity of the H10N4 virus to mammal-type receptors and completely abolished the affinity to avian-type receptors. No remarkable differences in cell-to-cell spread or HA cleavability were observed. All viruses, including the wild-type H10N7 virus, replicated at higher levels in chicken cells than in human cells. These results indicate that H10N7 acquired adaptive mutations (e.g., Q220L) to enhance replication in mammals and retained replication efficiency in the original avian host.
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