2Institute of Virology, Philipps University, Hans-Meerwein-Str. 2, Marburg 35043, Germany; fax: 06421-28-68962
* To whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received January 20, 2015; Revision received March 13, 2015
Wild ducks serve as the primary host for numerous and various influenza type A viruses. Occasionally, viruses from this reservoir can be transferred to other host species and cause outbreaks of influenza in fowl, swine, and horses, as well as result in novel human pandemics. Cellular tropism and range of susceptible host species are determined by interaction between virus and receptor molecules on cells. Here we discuss modern data regarding molecular features underlying interactions of influenza viruses with cellular receptors as well as a role for receptor specificity in interspecies transmission. By analyzing the earliest available pandemic influenza viruses (1918, 1957, 1968, 2009), we found that hemagglutinin reconfigured to recognize 2-6 sialic acid-containing receptors in the human upper airway tract together with altered enzymatic activity of neuraminidase necessary for maintaining functional balance with hemagglutinin are responsible for effective spread of influenza viruses in human populations. Resistance to low pH also contributes to this. Thus, a combination of such parameters makes it possible that influenza viruses give rise to novel pandemics.
KEY WORDS: influenza virus, receptor specificity, pandemic