Since 1996, highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 virus has presented a persistent threat to public health. Its high degree of genetic diversity also poses enormous challenges in developing effective vaccines. To search for vaccine regimens that could elicit broadly neutralizing antibody responses against diverse HPAI H5N1 strains, in the present study we tested H5 hemagglutinin (HA) from an A/Thailand/1(KAN)-1/2004 strain in a heterologous prime-boost vaccination. We demonstrated that priming mice with DNA and boosting with virus-like particle induced antibody responses that cross-neutralize all reported clades and subclades of HPAI H5N1 viruses and protect mice from high lethal dose HPAI H5N1 challenge in both active and passive immunizations. Unexpectedly, cross-divergent H5 neutralizing antibodies are directed to the HA head and block both attachment and postattachment of virus entry. Thus, we conclude that as a promising pan-H5 vaccine candidate this prime-boost regimen could be further developed in ferrets and in humans.
Keywords: HPAI H5N1; neutralizing antibody responses; vaccination.