Conserved epitopes on the influenza hemagglutinin (HA) stem are an attractive target for universal vaccine strategies as they elicit broadly neutralizing antibodies. Such antibody responses to stem-specific epitopes have been extensively characterized for HA subtypes H1 and H5 in humans. H2N2 influenza virus circulated 50 years ago and represents a pandemic threat due to the lack of widespread immunity, but, unlike H1 and H5, the H2 HA stem contains Phe45HA2 predicted to sterically clash with HA stem-binding antibodies characterized to date. To understand the effect of Phe45HA2, we compared the HA stem-specific B cell response in post hoc analyses of two phase 1 clinical trials, one testing vaccination with an H2 ferritin nanoparticle immunogen ( NCT03186781 ) and one with an inactivated H5N1 vaccine ( NCT01086657 ). In H2-naive individuals, the magnitude of the B cell response was equivalent, but H2-elicited HA stem-binding B cells displayed greater cross-reactivity than those elicited by H5. However, in individuals with childhood H2 exposure, H5-elicited HA stem-binding B cells also displayed high cross-reactivity, suggesting recall of memory B cells formed 50 years ago. Overall, we propose that a one-residue difference on an HA immunogen can alter establishment and expansion of broadly neutralizing memory B cells. These data have implications for stem-based universal influenza vaccination strategies.
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