Recent evidences have demonstrated that the presence of low pathogenic avian influenza viruses (LPAIV) may play an important role in host ecology and transmission of avian influenza viruses (AIV). While some authors have clearly demonstrated that LPAIV can mutate to render highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses (HPAIV), others have shown that their presence could provide the host with enough immunological memory to resist re-infections with HPAIV. In order to experimentally study the role of pre-existing host immunity, chickens previously infected with H7N2 LPAIV were subsequently challenged with H7N1 HPAIV. Pre-infection of chickens with H7N2 LAPIV conferred protection against the lethal challenge with H7N1 HPAIV, dramatically reducing the viral shedding, the clinical signs and the pathological outcome. Correlating with the protection afforded, sera from chickens primed with H7N2 LPAIV reacted with the H7-AIV subtype in hemagglutination inhibition assay and specifically with the N2-neuraminidase antigen. Conversely, subsequent exposure to H5N1 HPAIV resulted in a two days-delay on the onset of disease but all chickens died by 7 days post-challenge. Lack of protection correlated with the absence of H5-hemagglutining inhibitory antibodies prior to H5N1 HPAIV challenge. Our data suggest that in naturally occurring outbreaks of HPAIV, birds with pre-existing immunity to LPAIV could survive lethal infections with HA-homologous HPAIV but not subsequent re-infections with HA-heterologous HPAIV. These results could be useful to better understand the dynamics of AIV in chickens and might help in future vaccine formulations. © 2013 Vergara-Alert et al.