Immune history profoundly affects broadly protective B cell responses to influenza

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Abstract

Generating a broadly protective influenza vaccine is critical to global health. Understanding how immune memory influences influenza immunity is central to this goal. We undertook an in-depth study of the B cell response to the pandemic 2009 H1N1 vaccine over consecutive years. Analysis of monoclonal antibodies generated from vaccine-induced plasmablasts demonstrated that individuals with low preexisting serological titers to the vaccinating strain generated a broadly reactive, hemagglutinin (HA) stalk–biased response. Higher preexisting serum antibody levels correlated with a strain-specific HA head–dominated response. We demonstrate that this HA head immunodominance encompasses poor accessibility of the HA stalk epitopes. Further, we show polyreactivity of HA stalk–reactive antibodies that could cause counterselection of these cells. Thus, preexisting memory B cells against HA head epitopes predominate, inhibiting a broadly protective response against the HA stalk upon revaccination with similar strains. Consideration of influenza exposure history is critical for new vaccine strategies designed to elicit broadly neutralizing antibodies.

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