The host transcriptional response to superinfection by influenza A virus and Streptococcus pneumoniae

Ofir Cohn, Gal Yankovitz, Michal Mandelboim, Naama Peshes-Yaloz, Rachel Brandes, Eran Bacharach, Irit Gat-Viks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Secondary bacterial challenges during influenza virus infection “superinfection”) cause excessive mortality and hospitalization. Here, we present a longitudinal study of bulk gene expression changes in murine lungs during superinfection, with an initial influenza A virus infection and a subsequent Streptococcus pneumoniae infection. In addition to the well-characterized impairment of the host response, we identified superinfection-specific alterations in the global transcriptional program that are linked to the host’s ability to resist the pathogens. Particularly, whereas superinfected mice manifested an excessive rapid induction of the resistance-to-infection program, there was a substantial tissue-level rewiring of this program: upon superinfection, interferon-regulated genes were switched from positive to negative correlations with the host’s resistance state, whereas genes of fatty acid metabolism switched from negative to positive correlations with resistance states. Thus, the transcriptional resistance state in superinfection is reprogrammed toward repressed interferon signaling and induced fatty acid metabolism. Our findings suggest new insights into a tissue-level remodeling of the host defense upon superinfection, providing promising targets for future therapeutic interventions. IMPORTANCE Secondary bacterial infections are the most frequent complications during influenza A virus (IAV) pandemic outbreaks, contributing to excessive morbidity and mortality in the human population. Most IAV-related deaths are attributed to Streptococcus pneumoniae (SP) infections, which usually begin within the first week of IAV infection in the respiratory tracts. Here, we focused on longitudinal transcriptional responses during a superinfection model consisting of an SP infection that follows an initial IAV infection, comparing superinfection to an IAV-only infection, an SP-only infection, and control treatments. Our longitudinal data allowed a fine analysis of gene expression changes during superinfection. For instance, we found that superinfected mice exhibited rapid gene expression induction or reduction within the first 12 h after encountering the second pathogen. Cell proliferation and immune response activation processes were upregulated, while endothelial processes, vasculogenesis, and angiogenesis were downregulated, providing promising targets for future therapeutic interventions. We further analyzed the longitudinal transcriptional responses in the context of a previously defined spectrum of the host’s resistance state, revealing superinfection-specific reprogramming of resistance states, such as reprogramming of fatty acid metabolism and interferon signaling. The reprogrammed functions are compelling new targets for switching the pathogenic superinfection state into a single-infection state.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2024


  • RNA sequencing
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae
  • host resistance
  • influenza
  • superinfection
  • system biology

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Microbiology
  • Physiology
  • Biochemistry
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Modelling and Simulation
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Computer Science Applications


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