The aim of the current study was to map the genetic diversity in the haemagglutinin (HA) glycoprotein of influenza A viruses (IAVs) of the H9N2 subtype. Twenty-five H9N2 IAVs were isolated from broiler chickens from March to July 2019. The HA gene was amplified, and phylogenetic analysis was performed to determine the evolutionary relationship. Important antigenic amino acid residues of HA attributed to immune escape and zoonotic potential were compared among H9N2 IAVs. Phylogenetic analysis revealed that sublineage B2 under the G1 lineage in Pakistan was found to be diversified, and newly sequenced H9N2 isolates were nested into two clades (A and B). Mutations linked to the antigenic variation and potential immune escape were observed as G72E (1/25, 4%), A180T (3/25, 12%), and A180V (1/25, 4%). A twofold significant reduction (P < 0.01) in log2 hemagglutination inhibition titers was observed with H9N2 IAV naturally harboring amino acid V180 instead of A180 in HA protein. Moreover, in the last 20 years, complete substitution at residues (T127D, D135N, and L150N) and partial substitution at residues (72, 74, 131, 148, 180, 183, 188, 216, 217, and 249, mature H9 HA numbering) associated with changes in antigenicity were observed. The presence of L216 in all H9N2 IAV isolates and T/V180 in four isolates in the receptor-binding site reveals the potential of these viruses to cross the species barrier to infect human or mammals. The current study observed the circulation of antigenically diverse H9N2 IAV variants that possess potential mutations that can escape the host immune system.

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