Antigenic heterogeneity within influenza A (H3N2) virus strains

Bull World Health Organ. 1988;66(1):47-55.


On the basis of their antigenic properties, influenza virus strains are classified into types and subtypes, which are further subdivided into variants that differ to various degrees in haemagglutination-inhibition assays. Evidence is presented that during infection with an influenza A(H3N2) virus the respiratory tract of a human patient often harbours more than one antigenic virus variant. These variants are frequently propagated by embryonated fowl eggs and monkey cells with different efficiencies, and this may lead to the selection of different variants by either of these host systems. Also, passage of virus by a given host is sometimes attended by changes in reactivity in haemagglutination-inhibition tests. In some cases the heterogeneity described also affects the specific immunogenicity of the virus in ferrets. Virus strains cloned in monkey kidney cell cultures gave variants that were stable upon further passage. These results may have implications for antigenic and biochemical investigations of epidemiologically relevant virus variants. It is argued that the antigenic drift of influenza A(H3N2) viruses is best characterized by analyses, both with post-infection ferret antisera and with panels of monoclonal antibodies, of virus strains isolated and passaged in monkey kidney cell cultures only.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigenic Variation*
  • Antigens, Viral / classification*
  • Chick Embryo
  • Humans
  • Influenza A Virus, H3N2 Subtype*
  • Influenza A virus / classification
  • Influenza A virus / immunology*
  • Influenza, Human / microbiology
  • Macaca fascicularis
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / microbiology
  • Virus Cultivation


  • Antigens, Viral