Journal of virology

The host protease TMPRSS2 plays a major role in in vivo replication of emerging H7N9 and seasonal influenza viruses.

PMID 24600012


Proteolytic cleavage of the hemagglutinin (HA) protein is essential for influenza A virus (IAV) to acquire infectivity. This process is mediated by a host cell protease(s) in vivo. The type II transmembrane serine protease TMPRSS2 is expressed in the respiratory tract and is capable of activating a variety of respiratory viruses, including low-pathogenic (LP) IAVs possessing a single arginine residue at the cleavage site. Here we show that TMPRSS2 plays an essential role in the proteolytic activation of LP IAVs, including a recently emerged H7N9 subtype, in vivo. We generated TMPRSS2 knockout (KO) mice. The TMPRSS2 KO mice showed normal reproduction, development, and growth phenotypes. In TMPRSS2 KO mice infected with LP IAVs, cleavage of HA was severely impaired, and consequently, the majority of LP IAV progeny particles failed to gain infectivity, while the viruses were fully activated proteolytically in TMPRSS2+/+ wild-type (WT) mice. Accordingly, in contrast to WT mice, TMPRSS2 KO mice were highly tolerant of challenge infection by LP IAVs (H1N1, H3N2, and H7N9) with ≥1,000 50% lethal doses (LD50) for WT mice. On the other hand, a high-pathogenic H5N1 subtype IAV possessing a multibasic cleavage site was successfully activated in the lungs of TMPRSS2 KO mice and killed these mice, as observed for WT mice. Our results demonstrate that recently emerged H7N9 as well as seasonal IAVs mainly use the specific protease TMPRSS2 for HA cleavage in vivo and, thus, that TMPRSS2 expression is essential for IAV replication in vivo. Influenza A virus (IAV) is a leading pathogen that infects and kills many humans every year. We clarified that the infectivity and pathogenicity of IAVs, including a recently emerged H7N9 subtype, are determined primarily by a host protease, TMPRSS2. Our data showed that TMPRSS2 is the key host protease that activates IAVs in vivo through proteolytic cleavage of their HA proteins. Hence, TMPRSS2 is a good target for the development of anti-IAV drugs. Such drugs could also be effective for many other respiratory viruses, including the recently emerged Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronavirus, because they are also activated by TMPRSS2 in vitro. Consequently, the present paper could have a large impact on the battle against respiratory virus infections and contribute greatly to human health.