Highly differentiated cultures of ferret airway epithelium for the study of respiratory viruses, including influenza

Ferrets are extensively used as the gold standard animal model for influenza virus infection. In particular they have been used recently to study influenza transmission, an unsolved issue that is key to understanding the emergence of pandemics. Transmission experiments are costly in terms of whole animal use and although they can tell us which viruses transmit, in isolation, they do not reveal why. The target tissue in the bottle-neck process of influenza transmission is the respiratory epithelium. Here we propose to develop primary cultures of ferret airway epithelium that will recapitulate the environment the virus must traverse to initiate infection in the new host. These cultures will enhance our understanding of the virus–host interaction by allowing detailed cell and molecular biology using a wider panel of virus variants than would be possible in whole animal experiments. The results will allow an informed reduction in animal use whilst at the same time enhancing the scientific explanation of respiratory virus transmission. Moreover as other human and animal respiratory viruses may also replicate in these primary cultures, the development of the methodology will be of use to many other medical and veterinary scientists who study the respiratory organ both as a physiological system and as a pathogen target.

Singanayagam A et al. (2020). Characterising viable virus from air exhaled by H1N1 influenza-infected ferrets reveals the importance of haemagglutinin stability for airborne infectivity. PLoS Pathogens 16(2):e1008362. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1008362

Elderfield RA et al. (2015). Ferret airway epithelial cell cultures support efficient replication of influenza B virus but not mumps virus. J Gen Virol. 96(8):2092-8. doi: 10.1099/vir.0.000176

Jia N et al. (2014). Glycomic characterization of respiratory tract tissues of ferrets: implications for its use in influenza virus infection studies. Journal of Biological Chemistry 289(41):28489-504. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M114.588541

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Principal investigator

Professor Wendy Barclay


Imperial College London

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Award date

Apr 2011 - Mar 2013

Grant amount