Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Interdisciplinary Graduate Program


Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology

First Thesis Advisor

Dr. Daniel Bolon


Molecular evolution, deep mutational scanning, hemagglutinin, influenza, fitness


Controlling influenza A virus (IAV) infections remains a challenge largely due to the high replication and mutation rates of the virus. IAV is a negative-sense RNA virus with two main surface proteins — hemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase (NA). HA recognizes and binds sialic acid on host cell receptors to initiate virus entry. NA also recognizes sialic acid on host cell receptors but functions by cleaving sialic acid interactions to release progeny virus. Because both HA and NA interact with sialic acid on the host cell surface with opposing effects, their balance is essential for optimal viral infectivity. However, the evolutionary constraints that maintain HA and NA function, while conserving a functional balance, are not fully understood.

I adapted the comprehensive and systematic mutational scanning technology, termed EMPIRIC (Exceedingly Meticulous and Parallel Investigation of Randomized Individual Codons), to investigate the local fitness landscape of regions of HA under standard conditions and under drug pressure. We observed that synonymous substitutions had a higher mean absolute fitness effect in the signal than a neighboring HA region used as a control. Folding ∆G calculations revealed a hairpin loop that appeared to be differentially enriched between human and swine IAV variants in sequences of circulating strains. However, the molecular mechanism resulting in the observed host species-specific constraints remains undefined.

Studying the fitness landscape of the receptor binding site of HA revealed the high sensitivity of this region to mutation. However, modulating the levels of NA activity by mutation and by using the NA inhibitor oseltamivir enabled the identification of HA mutations with adaptive potential under selection pressure by oseltamivir. These results highlight the importance of the HA-NA functional balance virus replication and in the development of resistance to oseltamivir inhibitors. These studies provide improved understanding of IAV biology, and can inform the development of improved antiviral agents with reduced likelihood for resistance.



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