The immunogenicity of current influenza virus vaccines is assessed by measuring an increase of influenza virus-specific antibodies in a hemagglutination inhibition assay. This method exclusively measures antibodies against the hemagglutinin head domain. While this domain is immunodominant, it has been shown that hemagglutination inhibition titers do not always accurately predict protection from disease. In addition, several novel influenza virus vaccines that are currently under development do not target the hemagglutinin head domain, but rather more conserved sites, including the hemagglutinin stalk. Importantly, antibodies against the hemagglutinin stalk do not show activity in hemagglutination inhibition assays and will require different methods for quantification. In this study, we tested human serum samples from a seasonal influenza virus vaccination trial and an avian H5N1 virus vaccination trial for antibody activities in multiple types of assays, including binding assays and also functional assays. We then performed serum transfer experiments in mice which then received an H1N1 virus challenge to assess the in vivo protective effects of the antibodies. We found that hemagglutinin-specific antibody levels measured in an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) correlated well with protection from weight loss in mice. In addition, we found that weight loss was also inversely correlated with the level of serum antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity (ADCC) as measured in a reporter assay. These findings indicate that protection is in part conferred by Fc-dependent mechanisms. In conclusion, ELISAs can be used to measure hemagglutinin-specific antibody levels that could serve as a surrogate marker of protection for universal influenza virus vaccines.IMPORTANCE Influenza viruses are a serious concern for public health and cause a large number of deaths worldwide every year. Current influenza virus vaccines can confer protection from disease, but they often show low efficacy due to the ever-changing nature of the viruses. Novel vaccination approaches target conserved epitopes of the virus, including the hemagglutinin stalk domain, to elicit universally protective antibodies that also bind to mutated viruses or new subtypes of viruses. Importantly, the hemagglutination inhibition assay-the only assay that has been accepted as a correlate of protection by regulatory authorities-cannot measure antibodies against the hemagglutinin stalk domain. Therefore, novel correlates of protection and assays to measure vaccine immunogenicity need to be developed. In this study, we correlated the results from multiple assays with protection in mice after transfer of human serum and a lethal virus challenge to investigate potential novel serological surrogate markers for protection.
Keywords: ADCC; ELISA; correlate of protection; hemagglutinin; hemagglutinin stalk; influenza; influenza vaccines; surrogate marker; universal influenza virus vaccine.
Copyright © 2017 Jacobsen et al.