Comprehensive mapping of adaptation of the avian influenza polymerase protein PB2 to humans.


Viruses like influenza are infamous for their ability to adapt to new hosts. Retrospective studies of natural zoonoses and passaging in the lab have identified a modest number of host-adaptive mutations. However, it is unclear if these mutations represent all ways that influenza can adapt to a new host. Here we take a prospective approach to this question by completely mapping amino-acid mutations to the avian influenza virus polymerase protein PB2 that enhance growth in human cells. We identify numerous previously uncharacterized human-adaptive mutations. These mutations cluster on PB2's surface, highlighting potential interfaces with host factors. Some previously uncharacterized adaptive mutations occur in avian-to-human transmission of H7N9 influenza, showing their importance for natural virus evolution. But other adaptive mutations do not occur in nature because they are inaccessible via single-nucleotide mutations. Overall, our work shows how selection at key molecular surfaces combines with evolutionary accessibility to shape viral host adaptation.

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