Seasonal influenza vaccination takes into account primarily hemagglutinin (HA)-specific neutralizing antibody responses. However, the accumulation of substitutions in the antigenic regions of HA (i.e., antigenic drift) occasionally results in a mismatch between the vaccine and circulating strains. To prevent poor vaccine performance, we investigated whether an antigenically matched neuraminidase (NA) may compensate for reduced vaccine efficacy due to a mismatched HA. Ferrets were vaccinated twice with adjuvanted split inactivated influenza vaccines containing homologous HA and NA (vacH3N2), only homologous HA (vacH3N1), only homologous NA (vacH1N2), heterologous HA and NA (vacH1N1), or phosphate-buffered saline (vacPBS), followed by challenge with H3N2 virus (A/Netherlands/16190/1968). Ferrets vaccinated with homologous HA (vacH3N2 and vacH3N1) displayed minimum fever and weight loss compared to vacH1N1 and vacPBS ferrets, while ferrets vaccinated with NA-matched vacH1N2 displayed intermediate fever and weight loss. Vaccination with vacH1N2 further led to a reduction in virus shedding from the nose and undetectable virus titers in the lower respiratory tract, similarly to when the homologous vacH3N2 was used. Some protection was observed upon vacH1N1 vaccination, but this was not comparable to that observed for vacH1N2, again highlighting the important role of NA in vaccine-induced protection. These results illustrate that NA antibodies can prevent severe disease caused by influenza virus infection and that an antigenically matched NA in seasonal vaccines might prevent lower respiratory tract complications. This underlines the importance of considering NA during the yearly vaccine strain selection process, which may be particularly beneficial in seasons when the HA component of the vaccine is mismatched. IMPORTANCE Despite the availability of vaccines, influenza virus infections continue to cause substantial morbidity and mortality in humans. Currently available influenza vaccines take primarily the hemagglutinin (HA) into account, but the highly variable nature of this protein as a result of antigenic drift has led to a recurrent decline in vaccine effectiveness. While the protective effect of neuraminidase (NA) antibodies has been highlighted by several studies, there are no requirements with regard to quantity or quality of NA in licensed vaccines, and NA immunity remains largely unexploited. Since antigenic changes in HA and NA are thought to occur asynchronously, NA immunity could compensate for reduced vaccine efficacy when drift in HA occurs. By matching and mismatching the HA and NA components of monovalent split inactivated vaccines, we demonstrated the potential of NA immunity to protect against disease, virus replication in the lower respiratory tract, and virus shedding in the ferret model.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases–NIH Centers of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance contract HHSN272201400008C and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority contract HHSO100201500033C. The funders had no role in the study design, data collection and interpretation, or decision to submit the data for publication.
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