Neuraminidase in Virus-like Particles Contributes to the Protection against High Dose of Avian Influenza Virus Challenge Infection

Neuraminidase is an important target for influenza vaccination. In this study, we generated avian influenza VLPs, expressing hemagglutinin (HA), neuraminidase (NA), HA and NA co-expressed (HANA), to evaluate the protective role of NA against a high (10LD50) and low (2LD50) dose of avian influenza virus challenge infections. A single immunization with HANA VLPs elicited the highest level of virus-specific IgG, IgG1, and IgG2a responses from the sera post-vaccination and the lungs post-challenge-infection. Potent antibody-secreting cell responses were observed from the spleens and lungs of HANA-VLP-immunized mice post-challenge-infection. HANA VLPs induced the highest CD4+ T cell, CD8+ T cell, and germinal center B cells, while strongly limiting inflammatory cytokine production in the lungs compared to other VLP immunization groups. In correlation with these findings, the lowest bodyweight losses and lung virus titers were observed from HANA VLP immunization, and all of the immunized mice survived irrespective of the challenge dose. Contrastingly, VLPs expressing either HA or NA alone failed to elicit complete protection. These results indicated that NA in VLPs played a critical role in inducing protection against a high dose of the challenge infection.