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Microbes Infect. 2008 Jul;10(9):1024-9. doi: 10.1016/j.micinf.2008.07.002. Epub 2008 Jul 9.

Heterosubtypic immunity to influenza A virus: where do we stand?

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  • 1Viral Immunology and Cellular Biology Sections, NIAID, National Institutes of Health, DHHS, Bethesda, MD 20892-3209, USA.


Influenza A virus (IAV) strains are denoted by the subtype of their hemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase (NA) virion surface proteins. Major changes in HA subtype among strains circulating in humans are referred to as "antigenic shift". Antigenic shift can occur by two means: direct transmission of a zoonotic strain to humans or through reshuffling of the segmented genome in cells co-infected with animal and human strains. The lack of circulating anti-HA antibodies in human populations to a novel IAV results in extremely high frequency of illness and the potential for severe morbidity and mortality on a world-wide basis; the dreaded pandemic. Such pandemics could be partially controlled by developing a vaccine that generates effective heterosubtypic immunity (HSI) based on immune recognition of IAV antigens conserved across all viral strains. While it has long been known that T cells exhibit such broad cross-reactive specificity that could provide effective HSI, recent animal studies suggest a potential role for antibodies as well. Here we review current knowledge of the mechanisms contributing to HSI to influenza and speculate on the potential for this approach to contribute to public health.

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