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Tropism of avian influenza A (H5N1) in the upper and lower respiratory tract


Poor human-to-human transmission of influenza A H5N1 virus has been attributed to the paucity of putative sialic acid α2-3 virus receptors in the epithelium of the human upper respiratory tract, and thus to the presumed inability of the virus to replicate efficiently at this site. We now demonstrate that ex vivo cultures of human nasopharyngeal, adenoid and tonsillar tissues can be infected with H5N1 viruses in spite of an apparent lack of these receptors.

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Figure 1: Cellular location of ex vivo infection of the upper and lower respiratory tract by influenza viruses.
Figure 2: Comparison of infection by influenza viruses of ex vivo nasopharyngeal tissues and primary nasopharyngeal cells.

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We thank K. Fung, C.Y. Sing and I.H.Y. Ng for their technical expertise. This work was supported by the Wellcome Trust UK, by Research Fund for Control of Infectious Disease grants 03040872 and 06060552 from the Health, Welfare and Food Bureau, Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, People's Republic of China, and by Research Grants Council Central Allocation HKU 1/05C from the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, People's Republic of China.

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Authors and Affiliations



J.M.N. and J.S.M.P. designed and coordinated the experiments. M.C.W.C., W.Y.C., H.K.W., C.Y.C., L.L.M.P. and Y.G. performed the infection with influenza viruses and interpreted the results. D.L.W.K. provided the upper respiratory tract biopsies, and W.H.C. provided the lung tissues. M.P.W. interpreted the results of the lung biopsies, and S.W.T. provided the human primary nasopharyngeal epithelial cells.

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Correspondence to J M Nicholls or J S M Peiris.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Fig. 1

Sections of lung tissue cultured for 20 h with (a,b) A/Vietnam/3046/04 (H5N1) and (c,d) A/HK/54/98 (H1N1). (PDF 131 kb)

Supplementary Fig. 2

Distribution of Maackia amurensis (MAA) in the human respiratory tract using biotinylated lectins MAA1 and 2. (PDF 195 kb)

Supplementary Methods (PDF 107 kb)

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Nicholls, J., Chan, M., Chan, W. et al. Tropism of avian influenza A (H5N1) in the upper and lower respiratory tract. Nat Med 13, 147–149 (2007).

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