Mutation L319Q in the PB1 Polymerase Subunit Improves Attenuation of a Candidate Live-Attenuated Influenza A Virus Vaccine

Aitor Nogales, John Steel, Wen Chun Liu, Anice C. Lowen, Laura Rodriguez, Kevin Chiem, Andrew Cox, Adolfo García-Sastre, Randy A. Albrecht, Stephen Dewhurst, Luis Martínez-Sobrido

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Influenza A viruses (IAV) remain emerging threats to human public health. Live-attenuated influenza vaccines (LAIV) are one of the most effective prophylactic options to prevent disease caused by influenza infections. However, licensed LAIV remain restricted for use in 2- to 49-year-old healthy and nonpregnant people. Therefore, development of LAIV with increased safety, immunogenicity, and protective efficacy is highly desired. The U.S.-licensed LAIV is based on the master donor virus (MDV) A/Ann Arbor/6/60 H2N2 backbone, which was generated by adaptation of the virus to growth at low temperatures. Introducing the genetic signature of the U.S. MDV into the backbone of other IAV strains resulted in varying levels of attenuation. While the U.S. MDV mutations conferred an attenuated phenotype to other IAV strains, the same amino acid changes did not significantly attenuate the pandemic A/California/04/09 H1N1 (pH1N1) strain. To attenuate pH1N1, we replaced the conserved leucine at position 319 with glutamine (L319Q) in PB1 and analyzed the in vitro and in vivo properties of pH1N1 viruses containing either PB1 L319Q alone or in combination with the U.S. MDV mutations using two animal models of influenza infection and transmission, ferrets and guinea pigs. Our results demonstrated that L319Q substitution in the pH1N1 PB1 alone or in combination with the mutations of the U.S. MDV resulted in reduced pathogenicity (ferrets) and transmission (guinea pigs), and an enhanced temperature sensitive phenotype. These results demonstrate the feasibility of generating an attenuated MDV based on the backbone of a contemporary pH1N1 IAV strain. IMPORTANCE Vaccination represents the most effective strategy to reduce the impact of seasonal IAV infections. Although LAIV are superior in inducing protection and sterilizing immunity, they are not recommended for many individuals who are at high risk for severe disease. Thus, development of safer and more effective LAIV are needed. A concern with the current MDV used to generate the U.S.-licensed LAIV is that it is based on a virus isolated in 1960. Moreover, mutations that confer the temperature-sensitive, cold-adapted, and attenuated phenotype of the U.S.

in low level of attenuation in the contemporary pandemic A/California/04/09 H1N1 (pH1N1). Here, we show that introduction of PB1 L319Q substitution, alone or in combination with the U.S. MDV mutations, resulted in pH1N1 attenuation. These findings support the development of a novel LAIV MDV based on a contemporary pH1N1 strain as a medical countermeasure against currently circulating H1N1 IAV.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMicrobiology spectrum
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2022


  • attenuated
  • cold-adapted
  • ferrets
  • guinea pigs
  • influenza A virus
  • live-attenuated influenza vaccines
  • master donor virus
  • protection efficacy
  • temperature sensitive
  • transmission
  • vaccines


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