The 1918 influenza pandemic caused more than 40 million deaths and likely resulted from the introduction and adaptation of a novel avian-like virus. Influenza A virus hemagglutinins are important in host switching and virulence. Avian-adapted influenza virus hemagglutinins bind sialic acid receptors linked via α2-3 glycosidic bonds, while human-adapted hemagglutinins bind α2-6 receptors. Sequence analysis of 1918 isolates showed hemagglutinin genes with α2-6 or mixed α2-6/α2-3 binding. To characterize the role of the sialic acid binding specificity of the 1918 hemagglutinin, we evaluated in mice chimeric influenza viruses expressing wild-type and mutant hemagglutinin genes from avian and 1918 strains with differing receptor specificities. Viruses expressing 1918 hemagglutinin possessing either α2-6, α2-3, or α2-3/α2-6 sialic acid specificity were fatal to mice, with similar pathology and cellular tropism. Changing α2-3 to α2-6 binding specificity did not increase the lethality of an avian-adapted hemagglutinin. Thus, the 1918 hemagglutinin contains murine virulence determinants independent of receptor binding specificity
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