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Virol J. 2006 Dec 6;3:102.

Influenza A virus infection engenders a poor antibody response against the ectodomain of matrix protein 2.

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Immunology Program, The Wistar Institute, 3601 Spruce Street, Philadelphia PA 19104-4268, USA.



Matrix protein 2 (M2) is an integral tetrameric membrane protein of influenza A virus (IAV). Its ectodomain (M2e) shows remarkably little diversity amongst human IAV strains. As M2e-specific antibodies (Abs) have been shown to reduce the severity of infection in animals, M2e is being studied for its capability of providing protection against a broad range of IAV strains. Presently, there is little information about the concentration of M2e-specific Abs in humans. Two previous studies made use of ELISA and Western blot against M2e peptides and recombinant M2 protein as immunosorbents, respectively, and reported Ab titers to be low or undetectable. An important caveat is that these assays may not have detected all Abs capable of binding to native tetrameric M2e. Therefore, we developed an assay likely to detect all M2e tetramer-specific Abs.


We generated a HeLa cell line that expressed full length tetrameric M2 (HeLa-M2) or empty vector (HeLa-C10) under the control of the tetracycline response element. These cell lines were then used in parallel as immunosorbents in ELISA. The assay was standardized and M2e-specific Ab titers quantified by means of purified murine or chimeric (mouse variable regions, human constant regions) M2e-specific Abs in the analysis of mouse and human sera, respectively. We found that the cell-based ELISA was substantially more effective than immobilized M2e peptide in detecting M2e-specific Abs in sera of mice that had recovered from repetitive IAV infections. Still, titers remained low (< 5 microg/ml) even after two consecutive infections but increased to approximately 50 microg/ml after the third infection. Competition with free M2e peptide indicated that approximately 20% of M2e-specific Abs engendered by infection reacted with M2e peptide. In humans presenting with naturally acquired influenza virus infection, 11 of 24 paired sera showed a > or = 4-fold increase in M2e-specific Ab titer. The Ab response appeared to be of short duration as titers were very low (average 0.2 mug/ml) in all patients at onset of infection and in controls, in spite of evidence for previous exposure to IAV.


The results provide convincing evidence that M2e-specific Ab-mediated protection is currently lacking or suboptimal in humans.

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