Wild birds are the reservoir for all avian influenza viruses (AIV). In poultry, the transition from low pathogenic (LP) AIV of H5 and H7 subtypes to highly pathogenic (HP) AIV is accompanied mainly by changing the hemagglutinin (HA) monobasic cleavage site (CS) to a polybasic motif (pCS). Galliformes, including turkeys and chickens, succumb with high morbidity and mortality to HPAIV infections, although turkeys appear more vulnerable than chickens. Surprisingly, the genetic determinants for virulence and pathogenesis of HPAIV in turkeys are largely unknown. Here, we determined the genetic markers for virulence and transmission of HPAIV H7N1 in turkeys, and we explored the host responses in this species compared to those of chickens. We found that recombinant LPAIV H7N1 carrying pCS was avirulent in chickens but exhibited high virulence in turkeys, indicating that virulence determinants vary in these two galliform species. A
transcriptome analysis indicated that turkeys mount a different host response than do chickens, particularly from genes involved in RNA metabolism and the immune response. Furthermore, we found that the HA glycosylation at residue 123, acquired by LP viruses shortly after transmission from wild birds and preceding the transition from LP to HP, had a role in virus fitness and virulence in chickens, though it was not a prerequisite for high virulence in turkeys. Together, these findings indicate variable virulence determinants and host responses in two closely related galliformes, turkeys and chickens, after infection with HPAIV H7N1. These results could explain the higher vulnerability to HPAIV of turkeys compared to chickens.