Background: Exposure to contemporary seasonal influenza A viruses affords partial immunity to pandemic H1N1 2009 influenza A virus (pH1N1) infection. The impact of antibodies to the neuraminidase (NA) of seasonal influenza A viruses to cross-immunity against pH1N1 infection is unknown.
Methods and results: Antibodies to the NA of different seasonal H1N1 influenza strains were tested for cross-reactivity against A/California/04/09 (pH1N1). A panel of reverse genetic (rg) recombinant viruses was generated containing 7 genes of the H1N1 influenza strain A/Puerto Rico/08/34 (PR8) and the NA gene of either the pandemic H1N1 2009 strain (pH1N1) or one of the following contemporary seasonal H1N1 strains: A/Solomon/03/06 (rg Solomon) or A/Brisbane/59/07 (rg Brisbane). Convalescent sera collected from mice infected with recombinant viruses were measured for cross-reactive antibodies to pH1N1 via Hemagglutinin Inhibition (HI) or Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA). The ectodomain of a recombinant NA protein from the pH1N1 strain (pNA-ecto) was expressed, purified and used in ELISA to measure cross-reactive antibodies. Analysis of sera from elderly humans immunized with trivalent split-inactivated influenza (TIV) seasonal vaccines prior to 2009 revealed considerable cross-reactivity to pNA-ecto. High titers of cross-reactive antibodies were detected in mice inoculated with either rg Solomon or rg Brisbane. Convalescent sera from mice inoculated with recombinant viruses were used to immunize naïve recipient Balb/c mice by passive transfer prior to challenge with pH1N1. Mice receiving rg California sera were better protected than animals receiving rg Solomon or rg Brisbane sera.
Conclusions: The NA of contemporary seasonal H1N1 influenza strains induces a cross-reactive antibody response to pH1N1 that correlates with reduced lethality from pH1N1 challenge, albeit less efficiently than anti-pH1N1 NA antibodies. These findings demonstrate that seasonal NA antibodies contribute to but are not sufficient for cross-reactive immunity to pH1N1.