The NS1 protein of influenza A viruses is known as a nonessential virulence factor inhibiting type I interferon (IFN) production in mammals and in chicken cells. Whether NS1 inhibits the induction of type I IFNs in duck cells is currently unknown. In order to investigate this issue, we used reverse genetics to generate a virus expressing a truncated NS1 protein. Using the low pathogenic avian influenza virus A/turkey/Italy/977/1999 (H7N1) as a backbone, we were able to rescue a virus expressing a truncated NS1 protein of 99 amino acids in length. The truncated virus replicated poorly in duck embryonic fibroblasts, but reached high titers in the mammalian IFN-deficient Vero cell line. Using a gene reporter system to measure duck type I IFN production, we showed that the truncated virus is a potent inducer of type I IFN in cell culture. These results show that the NS1 protein functions to prevent the induction of IFN in duck cells and underline the need for a functional NS1 protein in order for the virus to express its full virulence.
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Vol. 54 • No. s1