Brief Communication | Published:

Avian flu

Influenza virus receptors in the human airway

Nature volume 440, pages 435436 (23 March 2006) | Download Citation



Although more than 100 people have been infected by H5N1 influenza A viruses, human-to-human transmission is rare1. What are the molecular barriers limiting human-to-human transmission? Here we demonstrate an anatomical difference in the distribution in the human airway of the different binding molecules preferred by the avian and human influenza viruses. The respective molecules are sialic acid linked to galactose by an α-2,3 linkage (SAα2,3Gal) and by an α-2,6 linkage (SAα2,6Gal)2. Our findings may provide a rational explanation for why H5N1 viruses at present rarely infect and spread between humans although they can replicate efficiently in the lungs.

Avian and human flu viruses seem to target different regions of a patient's respiratory tract.

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Author notes

    • Kyoko Shinya

    Present address: The Avian Zoonosis Research Centre, Tottori University, Tottori 680-8550, Japan


  1. *Department of Pathobiological Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA

    • Kyoko Shinya
    •  & Yoshihiro Kawaoka
  2. †Division of Virology, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Tokyo, Tokyo 108-8639, Japan

    • Kyoko Shinya
    • , Shinya Yamada
    •  & Yoshihiro Kawaoka
  3. #International Research Center for Infectious Diseases, Institute of Medical Science, University of Tokyo, Tokyo 108-8639, Japan

    • Yoshihiro Kawaoka
  4. ‡Institute for Animal Experimentation, Tohoku University, Sendai, Miyagi 980-8575, Japan

    • Kyoko Shinya
    •  & Noriyuki Kasai
  5. Respiratory Oncology and Molecular Medicine, Institute of Development, Aging, and Cancer, Tohoku University, Sendai, Miyagi 980-8575, Japan

    • Masahito Ebina
  6. ¶Department of Pathology, Graduate School of Medicine, Tohoku University, Sendai, Miyagi 980-8575, Japan

    • Masao Ono
  7. Core Research for Evolutional Science and Technology, Japan Science and Technology Agency, Kawaguchi, Saitama 332-0012, Japan

    • Yoshihiro Kawaoka


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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Yoshihiro Kawaoka.

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