Highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza viruses pose a debilitating pandemic threat. Thus, understanding mechanisms of antibody-mediated viral inhibition and neutralization escape is critical. Here, a robust yeast display system for fine epitope mapping of viral surface hemagglutinin (HA)-specific antibodies is demonstrated. The full-length H5 subtype HA (HA0) was expressed on the yeast surface in a correctly folded conformation, determined by binding of a panel of extensively characterized neutralizing human monoclonal antibodies (mAbs). These mAbs target conformationally-dependent epitopes of influenza A HA, which are highly conserved across H5 clades and group 1 serotypes. By separately displaying HA1 and HA2 subunits on yeast, domain mapping of two anti-H5 mAbs, NR2728 and H5-2A, localized their epitopes to HA1. These anti-H5 mAb epitopes were further fine mapped by using a library of yeast-displayed HA1 mutants and selecting for loss of binding without prior knowledge of potential contact residues. By overlaying key mutant residues that impacted binding onto a crystal structure of HA, the NR2728 mAb was found to interact with a fully surface-exposed contiguous patch of residues at the receptor binding site (RBS), giving insight into the mechanism underlying its potent inhibition of virus binding. The non-neutralizing H5-2A mAb was similarly mapped to a highly conserved H5 strain-specific but poorly accessible location on a loop at the trimer HA interface. These data further augment our toolchest for studying HA antigenicity, epitope diversity and accessibility in response to natural and experimental influenza infection and vaccines.
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