Science translational medicine

Immune history profoundly affects broadly protective B cell responses to influenza.

PMID 26631631


Generating a broadly protective influenza vaccine is critical to global health. Understanding how immune memory influences influenza immunity is central to this goal. We undertook an in-depth study of the B cell response to the pandemic 2009 H1N1 vaccine over consecutive years. Analysis of monoclonal antibodies generated from vaccine-induced plasmablasts demonstrated that individuals with low preexisting serological titers to the vaccinating strain generated a broadly reactive, hemagglutinin (HA) stalk-biased response. Higher preexisting serum antibody levels correlated with a strain-specific HA head-dominated response. We demonstrate that this HA head immunodominance encompasses poor accessibility of the HA stalk epitopes. Further, we show polyreactivity of HA stalk-reactive antibodies that could cause counterselection of these cells. Thus, preexisting memory B cells against HA head epitopes predominate, inhibiting a broadly protective response against the HA stalk upon revaccination with similar strains. Consideration of influenza exposure history is critical for new vaccine strategies designed to elicit broadly neutralizing antibodies.