SUMMARY An infectious bronchitis virus (CalEnt) with unusual enteric tropism was isolated from a California broiler flock exhibiting runting-stunting syndrome. IBV was detected in the small intestine, but not in respiratory tract or kidney. During virus isolation in embryos, it did not replicate in chorioallantoic membrane (CAM), but could be recovered from intestines. Its S1 protein showed 93% amino acid sequence identity to a California variant isolated in 1999 (Cal99). Intestinal lesions were reproduced following ocular/nasal inoculation of specific pathogen free (SPF) chickens, but respiratory signs and lesions were also present. The virus was detected in both respiratory and intestinal tissues. To determine whether the novel tropism of IBV CalEnt was due to an increased ability of its S1 protein to bind to the intestinal epithelium, we have now compared the binding of soluble trimeric recombinant S1 proteins derived from CalEnt and Cal99 to chicken tissues. Contrary to expectations, CalEnt S1 protein did not bind to small intestine, and, unlike Cal99 S1, did not bind to the respiratory epithelium or CAM. Using only the CalEnt S1-N-terminal domain or including the S2-ectodomain (lacking membrane and cytoplasmic domains), which have been shown to improve ArkDPI S1 binding, did not lead to detectable binding at the standard protein concentration to any tissue tested. Our results indicate no/poor binding of the CalEnt spike protein to both respiratory and intestinal tissues and thus do not support better attachment to intestinal epithelial cells as a reason for CalEnt’s extended tropism. These results might reflect shortcomings of the assay, including that it does not detect potential contributions of the S1-C-terminal domain to attachment. We used bioinformatic approaches to explore the possibility that the unique tropism of CalEnt might be a result of functions of the S protein in cell entry steps subsequent to attachment. These analyses suggest that CalEnt’s S2-coding region was acquired through a recombination event and encodes a unique amino acid sequence at the putative recognition site for the protease that activates the S protein for fusion. Thus S2 activation by tissue-specific proteases might facilitate CalEnt entry into intestinal epithelial cells and compensate for poor binding by its S1 protein.

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