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Evidence for host-cell selection of influenza virus antigenic variants


Extensive antigenic variability and a capricious epidemiology are characteristics of influenza A and B viruses of man. The haemagglutinin (HA) undergoes frequent and progressive antigenic drift as a result of selection, under immunological pressure, of viruses possessing alterations in the amino acid sequences at specific sites in the molecule1. Here we present evidence for an additional selection mechanism for antigenic variants of influenza virus that depends on differing host cell tropisms of virus subpopulations. These studies were initiated after earlier observations of the occurrence of a marked degree of antigenic variation during passage of laboratory strains of influenza virus in eggs and cell cultures (J.C.J., in preparation). We have now shown that cultivation of influenza B viruses in eggs selects subpopulations which are antigenically distinct from virus from the same source grown in mammalian cell cultures. As antigenic characterization of influenza virus strains for epidemiological purposes2 and for the preparation of influenza vaccines3 conventionally relies on the cultivation of virus in eggs, our findings may have important practical implications for vaccine design and efficacy.

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Schild, G., Oxford, J., de Jong, J. et al. Evidence for host-cell selection of influenza virus antigenic variants. Nature 303, 706–709 (1983).

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