Influenza A virus (IAV) replicates in the upper respiratory tract of humans at 33 °C and in the intestinal tract of birds at close to 41 °C. The viral RNA polymerase complex comprises three subunits (PA, PB1 and PB2) and plays an important role in host adaptation. We therefore developed an in vitro system to examine the temperature sensitivity of IAV RNA polymerase complexes from different origins. Complexes were prepared from human lung epithelial cells (A549) using a novel adenoviral expression system. Affinity-purified complexes were generated that contained either all three subunits (PA/PB1/PB2) from the A/Viet/1203/04 H5N1 virus (H/H/H) or the A/WSN/33 H1N1 strain (W/W/W). We also prepared chimeric complexes in which the PB2 subunit was exchanged (H/H/W, W/W/H) or substituted with an avian PB2 from the A/chicken/Nanchang/3-120/01 H3N2 strain (W/W/N). All complexes were functional in transcription, cap-binding and endonucleolytic activity. Complexes containing the H5N1 or Nanchang PB2 protein retained transcriptional activity over a broad temperature range (30–42 °C). In contrast, complexes containing the WSN PB2 protein lost activity at elevated temperatures (39 °C or higher). The E627K mutation in the avian PB2 was not required for this effect. Finally, the avian PB2 subunit was shown to confer enhanced stability to the WSN 3P complex. These results show that PB2 plays an important role in regulating the temperature optimum for IAV RNA polymerase activity, possibly due to effects on the functional stability of the 3P complex
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