The matrix segment of the "Spanish flu" virus originated from intragenic recombination between avian and human influenza A viruses.
The 1918 Spanish flu virus has claimed more than 50 million lives. However, the mechanism of its high pathogenicity remains elusive; and the origin of the virus is controversial. The matrix (M) segment regulates the replication of influenza A virus, thereby affecting its virulence and pathogenicity. This study found that the M segment of the Spanish flu virus is a recombinant chimera originating from avian influenza virus and human influenza virus. The unique mosaic M segment might confer the virus high replication capacity, showing that the recombination might play an important role in inducing high pathogenicity of the virus. In addition, this study also suggested that the NA and NS segments of the virus were generated by reassortment between mammalian and avian viruses. Direct phylogenetic evidence was also provided for its avian origin.