Year of Publication

2011

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Dissertation

College

Agriculture

Department

Veterinary Science

First Advisor

Dr. Thomas Chambers

Abstract

Equine influenza virus causes a mild, self-limiting upper respiratory disease in its natural host. In stark contrast, equine influenza viruses of the H7N7 subtype produce lethal infection in BALB/c mice. This dissertation explored the mechanism underlying the differential pathogenicity of the equine H7N7 influenza virus observed in horses and BALB/c mice. Initially, a comparative study of the pathogenesis was conducted in BALB/c mice inoculated intranasally with a representative isolate of either H7N7 or H3N8 subtype equine influenza virus. All H3N8 virus-infected mice survived the infection whereas 100% mortality was documented for the mice receiving the H7N7 virus by day 8 post infection. Both viruses replicated to a similar degree in the lungs at the early stages of infection. However, after day 2 post infection until the death of the mice, the pulmonary viral loads of the H7N7 group were significantly higher than those of the control, whereas the H3N8 virus was eventually eradicated from the mice at day 7 p.i. Correspondingly, a vigorous pro-inflammatory cytokine response in the lung was induced by the H7N7 virus but not the H3N8 virus, which reflected a desperate attempt by the host immune responses to restrain the overwhelming infection. The H7N7 virus was poorly sensitive to the innate immune containment, resulting in a significant higher cumulative mortality rate than that of the control virus in chicken embryos aged 9 days and older. On the contrary, in horses, replication of the paired viruses was completely cleared by the host immune responses at day 7 p.i. and the infections produced an acute yet non-lethal illness, albeit the H3N8 virus induced generally more pronounced clinical manifestations than the H7N7 virus. The clinical severity correlated to the difference in cytokine-inducing capacity between the two viruses in horses, as evidenced by the finding that the H3N8 virus triggered significantly higher levels of gene transcription of multiple key inflammatory cytokines in the circulation than those seen for the H7N7 virus. In addition, equine peripheral monocyte-derived macrophages were found to be a target of equine influenza virus and can support the productive replication of the virus in vitro.

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