Christian Grund, Donata Hoffmann, Reiner Ulrich, Mahmoud Naguib, Jan Schinköthe, Bernd Hoffmann, Timm Harder, Sandra Saenger, Katja Zscheppang, Mario Tönnies, Stefan Hippenstiel, Andreas Hocke, Thorsten Wolff, Martin Beer
We investigated in a unique setup of animal models and a human lung explant culture biological properties, including zoonotic potential, of a representative 2016 highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAIV) H5N8, clade 188.8.131.52 group B (H5N8B), that spread rapidly in a huge and ongoing outbreak series in Europe and caused high mortality in waterfowl and domestic birds. HPAIV H5N8B showed increased virulence with rapid onset of severe disease and mortality in Pekin ducks due to pronounced neuro- and hepatotropism. Cross-species infection was evaluated in mice, ferrets, and in a human lung explant culture model. While the H5N8B isolate was highly virulent for Balb/c mice, virulence and transmissibility were grossly reduced in ferrets, which was mirrored by marginal replication in human lung cultures infected ex vivo. Our data indicate that the 2016 HPAIV H5N8B is avian-adapted with augmented virulence for waterfowl, but has low zoonotic potential. The here tested combination of animal studies with the inoculation of human explants provides a promising future work flow to evaluate zoonotic potential, mammalian replication competence and avian virulence of HPAIV.