Host obesity impacts genetic variation in influenza A viral populations

Marissa Knoll, Rebekah Honce, Victoria Meliopoulos, Ernesto Alejandro Segredo-Otero, Katherine E.E. Johnson, Stacey Schultz-Cherry, Elodie Ghedin, David Gresham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Obesity is well established as a risk factor for many noncommunicable diseases; however, its consequences for infectious disease are poorly understood. Here, we investigated the impact of host obesity on influenza A virus (IAV) genetic variation using a diet-induced obesity ferret model and the A/Hong Kong/1073/1999 (H9N2) strain. Using a co-caging study design, we investigated the maintenance, generation, and transmission of intrahost IAV genetic variation by sequencing viral genomic RNA obtained from nasal wash samples over multiple days of infection. We found evidence for an enhanced role of positive selection acting on de novo mutations in obese hosts that led to nonsynonymous changes that rose to high frequency. In addition, we identified numerous cases of mutations throughout the genome that were specific to obese hosts and that were preserved during transmission between hosts. Despite detection of obese-specific variants, the overall viral genetic diversity did not differ significantly between obese and lean hosts. This is likely due to the high supply rate of de novo variation and common evolutionary adaptations to the ferret host regardless of obesity status, which we show are mediated by variation in the hemagglutinin and polymerase genes (PB2 and PB1). We also identified defective viral genomes (DVGs) that were found uniquely in either obese or lean hosts, but the overall DVG diversity and dynamics did not differ between the two groups. Our study suggests that obesity may result in a unique selective environment impacting intrahost IAV evolution, highlighting the need for additional genetic and functional studies to confirm these effects.IMPORTANCEObesity is a chronic health condition characterized by excess adiposity leading to a systemic increase in inflammation and dysregulation of metabolic hormones and immune cell populations. Influenza A virus (IAV) is a highly infectious pathogen responsible for seasonal and pandemic influenza. Host risk factors, including compromised immunity and pre-existing health conditions, can contribute to increased infection susceptibility and disease severity. During viral replication in a host, the negative-sense single-stranded RNA genome of IAV accumulates genetic diversity that may have important consequences for viral evolution and transmission. Our study provides the first insight into the consequences of host obesity on viral genetic diversity and adaptation, suggesting that host factors associated with obesity alter the selective environment experienced by a viral population, thereby impacting the spectrum of genetic variation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e0177823
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 13 2024


  • ferret
  • genetic diversity
  • influenza
  • obesity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology


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