Broadly Reactive H2 Hemagglutinin Vaccines Elicit Cross-Reactive Antibodies in Ferrets Preimmune to Seasonal Influenza A Viruses.mSphere. 2021 03 10; 6(2)M
Influenza vaccines have traditionally been tested in naive mice and ferrets. However, humans are first exposed to influenza viruses within the first few years of their lives. Therefore, there is a pressing need to test influenza virus vaccines in animal models that have been previously exposed to influenza viruses before being vaccinated. In this study, previously described H2 computationally optimized broadly reactive antigen (COBRA) hemagglutinin (HA) vaccines (Z1 and Z5) were tested in influenza virus "preimmune" ferret models. Ferrets were infected with historical, seasonal influenza viruses to establish preimmunity. These preimmune ferrets were then vaccinated with either COBRA H2 HA recombinant proteins or wild-type H2 HA recombinant proteins in a prime-boost regimen. A set of naive preimmune or nonpreimmune ferrets were also vaccinated to control for the effects of the multiple different preimmunities. All of the ferrets were then challenged with a swine H2N3 influenza virus. Ferrets with preexisting immune responses influenced recombinant H2 HA-elicited antibodies following vaccination, as measured by hemagglutination inhibition (HAI) and classical neutralization assays. Having both H3N2 and H1N1 immunological memory regardless of the order of exposure significantly decreased viral nasal wash titers and completely protected all ferrets from both morbidity and mortality, including the mock-vaccinated ferrets in the group. While the vast majority of the preimmune ferrets were protected from both morbidity and mortality across all of the different preimmunities, the Z1 COBRA HA-vaccinated ferrets had significantly higher antibody titers and recognized the highest number of H2 influenza viruses in a classical neutralization assay compared to the other H2 HA vaccines.IMPORTANCE H1N1 and H3N2 influenza viruses have cocirculated in the human population since 1977. Nearly every human alive today has antibodies and memory B and T cells against these two subtypes of influenza viruses. H2N2 influenza viruses caused the 1957 global pandemic and people born after 1968 have never been exposed to H2 influenza viruses. It is quite likely that a future H2 influenza virus could transmit within the human population and start a new global pandemic, since the majority of people alive today are immunologically naive to viruses of this subtype. Therefore, an effective vaccine for H2 influenza viruses should be tested in an animal model with previous exposure to influenza viruses that have circulated in humans. Ferrets were infected with historical influenza A viruses to more accurately mimic the immune responses in people who have preexisting immune responses to seasonal influenza viruses. In this study, preimmune ferrets were vaccinated with wild-type (WT) and COBRA H2 recombinant HA proteins in order to examine the effects that preexisting immunity to seasonal human influenza viruses have on the elicitation of broadly cross-reactive antibodies from heterologous vaccination.