The hemagglutinin protein of H3N2 influenza viruses is the major target of neutralizing antibodies induced by infection and vaccination. However, the virus frequently escapes antibody-mediated neutralization due to mutations in the globular head domain. Five topologically distinct antigenic sites in the head domain of H3 hemagglutinin, A to E, have been previously described by mapping the binding sites of monoclonal antibodies, yet little is known about the contribution of each site to the immunogenicity of modern H3 hemagglutinins, as measured by hemagglutination inhibition activity, which is known to correlate with protection. To investigate the hierarchy of antibody immunodominance, five δ1 recombinant influenza viruses expressing hemagglutinin of the A/Hong Kong/4801/2014 (H3N2) strain with mutations in single antigenic sites were generated. Next, the δ1 viruses were used to determine the hierarchy of immunodominance by measuring the hemagglutination inhibition reactivity of mouse antisera and plasma from 18 human subjects before and after seasonal influenza vaccination in 2017-2018. In both mice and humans, mutations in antigenic site B caused the most significant decrease in hemagglutination inhibition titers compared to wild-type hemagglutinin. This study revealed that antigenic site B is immunodominant in the H3N2 influenza virus strain included in the current vaccine preparations. IMPORTANCE Influenza viruses rapidly evade humoral immunity through antigenic drift, making current vaccines poorly effective and antibody-mediated protection short-lived. The majority of neutralizing antibodies target five antigenic sites in the head domain of the hemagglutinin protein that are also the most sequence-variable regions. A better understanding of the contribution of each antigenic site to the overall antibody response to hemagglutinin may help in the design of improved influenza virus vaccines.
- Influenza A virus