Both natural influenza infection and current seasonal influenza vaccines primarily induce neutralising antibody responses against highly diverse epitopes within the “head” of the viral hemagglutinin (HA) protein. There is increasing interest on redirecting immunity towards the more conserved HA-stem or stalk as a means to broaden protective antibody responses. Here we examined HA-stem-specific B cell and T-follicular helper (Tfh) cell responses in the context of influenza infection and immunisation in mouse and monkey models. We found that during infection the stem domain was immunologically subdominant to the head in terms of serum antibody production and antigen-specific B and Tfh responses. Similarly, we found HA-stem immunogens were poorly immunogenic compared to the full-length HA with abolished sialic acid binding activity, with limiting Tfh elicitation a potential constraint to the induction or boosting of anti-stem immunity by vaccination. Finally, we confirm that currently licensed seasonal influenza vaccines can boost pre-existing memory responses against the HA-stem in humans. An increased understanding of the immune dynamics surrounding the HA-stem is essential to inform the design of next-generation influenza vaccines for broad and durable protection.
Hyon-Xhi Tan, Sinthujan Jegaskanda, Jennifer A. Juno, Robyn Esterbauer, Julius Wong, Hannah G. Kelly, Yi Liu, Danielle Tilmanis, Aeron C. Hurt, Jonathan W. Yewdell, Stephen J. Kent, Adam K. Wheatley