Patients infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza A H5N1 viruses (H5N1 HPAIV) show diffuse alveolar damage. However, the temporal progression of tissue damage and repair after viral infection remains poorly defined. Therefore, we assessed the sequential histopathological characteristics of mouse lung after intranasal infection with H5N1 HPAIV or H1N1 2009 pandemic influenza virus (H1N1 pdm). We determined the amount and localization of virus in the lung through IHC staining and in situ hybridization. IHC used antibodies raised against the virus protein and antibodies specific for macrophages, type II pneumocytes, or proliferating cell nuclear antigen. In situ hybridization used RNA probes against both viral RNA and mRNA encoding the nucleoprotein and the hemagglutinin protein. H5N1 HPAIV infection and replication were observed in multiple lung cell types and might result in rapid progression of lung injury. Both type II pneumocytes and macrophages proliferated after H5N1 HPAIV infection. However, the abundant macrophages failed to block the viral attack, and proliferation of type II pneumocytes failed to restore the damaged alveoli. In contrast, mice infected with H1N1 pdm exhibited modest proliferation of type II pneumocytes and macrophages and slight alveolar damage. These results suggest that the virulence of H5N1 HPAIV results from the wide range of cell tropism of the virus, excessive virus replication, and rapid development of diffuse alveolar damage.
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