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PLoS One. 2010 Sep 1;5(9). pii: e12466. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0012466.

Enhanced immunogenicity of stabilized trimeric soluble influenza hemagglutinin.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology and Emory Vaccine Center, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia, United States of America.



The recent swine-origin H1N1 pandemic illustrates the need to develop improved procedures for rapid production of influenza vaccines. One alternative to the current egg-based manufacture of influenza vaccine is to produce a hemagglutinin (HA) subunit vaccine using a recombinant expression system with the potential for high protein yields, ease of cloning new antigenic variants, and an established safety record in humans.


We generated a soluble HA (sHA), derived from the H3N2 virus A/Aichi/2/68, modified at the C-terminus with a GCN4pII trimerization repeat to stabilize the native trimeric structure of HA. When expressed in the baculovirus system, the modified sHA formed native trimers. In contrast, the unmodified sHA was found to present epitopes recognized by a low-pH conformation specific monoclonal antibody. We found that mice primed and boosted with 3 microg of trimeric sHA in the absence of adjuvants had significantly higher IgG and HAI titers than mice that received the unmodified sHA. This correlated with an increased survival and reduced body weight loss following lethal challenge with mouse-adapted A/Aichi/2/68 virus. In addition, mice receiving a single vaccination of the trimeric sHA in the absence of adjuvants had improved survival and body weight loss compared to mice vaccinated with the unmodified sHA.


Our data indicate that the recombinant trimeric sHA presents native trimeric epitopes while the unmodified sHA presents epitopes not exposed in the native HA molecule. The epitopes presented in the unmodified sHA constitute a "silent face" which may skew the antibody response to epitopes not accessible in live virus at neutral pH. The results demonstrate that the trimeric sHA is a more effective influenza vaccine candidate and emphasize the importance of structure-based antigen design in improving recombinant HA vaccines.

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