Selection and Antigenic Characterization of Immune-Escape Mutants of H7N2 Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza Virus Using Homologous Polyclonal Sera

Understanding the dynamics of the selection of influenza A immune escape variants by serum antibody is critical for designing effective vaccination programs for animals, especially poultry where large populations have a short generation time and may be vaccinated with high frequency. In this report, immune-escape mutants of A/turkey/New York/4450/1994 H7N2 low pathogenic avian influenza virus, were selected by serially passaging the virus in the presence of continuously increasing concentrations of homologous chicken polyclonal sera. Amino acid mutations were identified by sequencing the parental hemagglutinin (HA) gene and every 10 passages by both sager and deep sequencing, and the antigenic distance of the mutants to the parent strain was determined. Progressively, a total of five amino acid mutations were observed over the course of 30 passages. Based on their absence from the parental virus with deep sequencing, the mutations appear to have developed de novo. The antigenic distance between the selected mutants and the parent strain increased as the number of amino acid mutations accumulated and the concentration of antibodies had to be periodically increased to maintain the same reduction in virus titer during selection. This selection system demonstrates how H7 avian influenza viruses behave under selection with homologous sera, and provides a glimpse of their evolutionary dynamics, which can be applied to developing vaccination programs that maximize the effectiveness of a vaccine over time.