Glycosylation focuses sequence variation in the influenza A virus H1 hemagglutinin globular domain

PLoS Pathog. 2010 Nov 24;6(11):e1001211. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1001211.


Antigenic drift in the influenza A virus hemagglutinin (HA) is responsible for seasonal reformulation of influenza vaccines. Here, we address an important and largely overlooked issue in antigenic drift: how does the number and location of glycosylation sites affect HA evolution in man? We analyzed the glycosylation status of all full-length H1 subtype HA sequences available in the NCBI influenza database. We devised the "flow index" (FI), a simple algorithm that calculates the tendency for viruses to gain or lose consensus glycosylation sites. The FI predicts the predominance of glycosylation states among existing strains. Our analyses show that while the number of glycosylation sites in the HA globular domain does not influence the overall magnitude of variation in defined antigenic regions, variation focuses on those regions unshielded by glycosylation. This supports the conclusion that glycosylation generally shields HA from antibody-mediated neutralization, and implies that fitness costs in accommodating oligosaccharides limit virus escape via HA hyperglycosylation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Antigenic Variation / genetics*
  • Antigens, Viral / metabolism*
  • Computational Biology
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Glycosylation
  • Hemagglutinin Glycoproteins, Influenza Virus / genetics
  • Hemagglutinin Glycoproteins, Influenza Virus / immunology
  • Hemagglutinin Glycoproteins, Influenza Virus / metabolism*
  • Hemagglutinins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Influenza A virus / physiology*
  • Influenza, Human / genetics
  • Influenza, Human / immunology
  • Influenza, Human / virology*
  • Oligosaccharides / metabolism
  • Protein Conformation


  • Antigens, Viral
  • Hemagglutinin Glycoproteins, Influenza Virus
  • Hemagglutinins
  • Oligosaccharides