Song L, Xiong D, Kang X, Jiao Y, et al.. The optimized fusion protein HA1-2-FliC△D2D3 promotes mixed Th1/Th2 immune responses to influenza H7N9 with low induction of systemic proinflammatory cytokines in mice. Antiviral Res 2018 Oct 30
H7N9 influenza virus has an unusually high fatality rate of approximately 40%, and a safe and effective vaccine against this subtype is urgently needed. Flagellin, a Toll-like receptor (TLR) 5 agonist, has been deemed as a potent adjuvant candidate. However, its high antigenicity and potential for causing inflammatory injury might restrict its clinical application. Previously, we demonstrated that a fusion protein, HA1-2-FliC, comprising the hemagglutinin globular head protein (HA1-2) of H7N9 influenza virus and the full-length Salmonella typhimurium flagellin protein (FliC), had high efficiency against H7N9 in mouse and chicken models. Here, we constructed an improved fusion protein, HA1-2-FliC△D2D3, with HA1-2 fused to the FliC△D2D3 (lacking the hypervariable-region domains D2 and D3 of FliC). HA1-2-FliC△D2D3 exhibited efficient immunoreactivity and TLR5 agonist efficacy, and promoted innate immune-response activation in mouse macrophages, peripheral blood mononuclear cells, and splenocytes, based on cytokine- and chemokine-expression profiles. Mice immunized with HA1-2-FliCΔD2D3 showed significantly lower systemic inflammatory responses (compared with HA1-2-FliC) and highly reduced flagellin-specific antibody production, without affecting HA1-2-specific antibody production and cellular immune responses. Enhanced IFN-γ/IL-4 generation suggested that HA1-2-FliCΔD2D3 maintained balanced Th1/Th2 immune responses. Furthermore, virus challenge was performed in a chicken model. The results showed that chickens receiving FliCΔD2D3 adjuvant vaccine induced high levels of serum neutralizing antibodies, and exhibited a significant reduction of viral loads in throat and cloaca compared to chickens receiving only HA1-2. In conclusion, we constructed the H7N9 influenza subunit vaccine candidate HA1-2-FliCΔD2D3, with reduced immunogenicity against FliC and lower adverse events. The improved adjuvant FliCΔD2D3 can potentially help in developing safe and effective universal protein-based influenza vaccines for humans.
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