Scientific Papers

H5N1 clade avian influenza viruses replicate in differentiated bovine airway epithelial cells cultured at air-liquid interface


Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 viruses are responsible for disease outbreaks in wild birds and poultry, resulting in devastating losses to the poultry sector. Since 2020, an increasing number of outbreaks of HPAI H5N1 was seen in wild birds. Infections in mammals have become more common, in most cases in carnivores after direct contact with infected birds. Although ruminants were previously not considered a host species for HPAI viruses, in March 2024 multiple outbreaks of HPAI H5N1 were detected in goats and cattle in the United States. Here, we have used primary bronchus-derived well-differentiated bovine airway epithelial cells (WD-AECs) cultured at air-liquid interface to assess the susceptibility and permissiveness of bovine epithelial cells to infection with European H5N1 virus isolates. We inoculated bovine WD-AECs with three low-passage HPAI clade H5N1 virus isolates and detected rapid increases in viral genome loads and infectious virus during the first 24 h post-inoculation, without substantial cytopathogenic effects. Three days post-inoculation infected cells were still detectable by immunofluorescent staining. These data indicate that multiple lineages of HPAI H5N1 may have the propensity to infect the respiratory tract of cattle and support extension of avian influenza surveillance efforts to ruminants. Furthermore, this study underscores the benefit of WD-AEC cultures for pandemic preparedness by providing a rapid and animal-free assessment of the host range of an emerging pathogen.