BACKGROUND: Although the important role of the non-structural 1 (NS) gene of influenza A in virulence of the virus is well established, our knowledge about the extent of variation in the NS gene pool of influenza A viruses in their natural reservoirs in Europe is incomplete. In this study we determined the subtypes and prevalence of influenza A viruses present in mallards in Northern Europe and further analysed the NS gene of these isolates in order to obtain a more detailed knowledge about the genetic variation of NS gene of influenza A virus in their natural hosts. RESULTS: A total number of 45 influenza A viruses of different subtypes were studied. Eleven haemagglutinin- and nine neuraminidase subtypes in twelve combinations were found among the isolated viruses. Each NS gene reported here consisted of 890 nucleotides; there were no deletions or insertions. Phylogenetic analysis clearly shows that two distinct gene pools, corresponding to both NS allele A and B, were present at the same time in the same geographic location in the mallard populations in Northern Europe. A comparison of nucleotide sequences of isolated viruses revealed a substantial number of silent mutations, which results in high degree of homology in amino acid sequences. The degree of variation within the alleles is very low. In our study allele A viruses displays a maximum of 5% amino acid divergence while allele B viruses display only 2% amino acid divergence. All the viruses isolated from mallards in Northern Europe possessed the typical avian ESEV amino acid sequence at the C-terminal end of the NS1 protein. CONCLUSION: Our finding indicates the existence of a large reservoir of different influenza A viruses in mallards population in Northern Europe. Although our phylogenetic analysis clearly shows that two distinct gene pools, corresponding to both NS allele A and B, were present in the mallards populations in Northern Europe, allele B viruses appear to be less common in natural host species than allele A, comprising only about 13% of the isolates sequenced in this study.
2008. Vol. 5, 147- p.