Evolutionary trends of A(H1N1) influenza virus hemagglutinin since 1918

PLoS One. 2009 Nov 17;4(11):e7789. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0007789.


The Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 is spreading to numerous countries and causing many human deaths. Although the symptoms in humans are mild at present, fears are that further mutations in the virus could lead to a potentially more dangerous outbreak in subsequent months. As the primary immunity-eliciting antigen, hemagglutinin (HA) is the major agent for host-driven antigenic drift in A(H3N2) virus. However, whether and how the evolution of HA is influenced by existing immunity is poorly understood for A(H1N1). Here, by analyzing hundreds of A(H1N1) HA sequences since 1918, we show the first evidence that host selections are indeed present in A(H1N1) HAs. Among a subgroup of human A(H1N1) HAs between 1918 approximately 2008, we found strong diversifying (positive) selection at HA(1) 156 and 190. We also analyzed the evolutionary trends at HA(1) 190 and 225 that are critical determinants for receptor-binding specificity of A(H1N1) HA. Different A(H1N1) viruses appeared to favor one of these two sites in host-driven antigenic drift: epidemic A(H1N1) HAs favor HA(1) 190 while the 1918 pandemic and swine HAs favor HA(1) 225. Thus, our results highlight the urgency to understand the interplay between antigenic drift and receptor binding in HA evolution, and provide molecular signatures for monitoring future antigenically drifted 2009 pandemic and seasonal A(H1N1) influenza viruses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens / metabolism
  • Codon
  • Disease Outbreaks
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Hemagglutinin Glycoproteins, Influenza Virus / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Influenza A Virus, H1N1 Subtype / genetics*
  • Molecular Conformation
  • Mutation
  • Phylogeny
  • Swine


  • Antigens
  • Codon
  • Hemagglutinin Glycoproteins, Influenza Virus