A Deep Learning Approach for Predicting Antigenic Variation of Influenza A H3N2

Modeling antigenic variation in influenza (flu) virus A H3N2 using amino acid sequences is a promising approach for improving the prediction accuracy of immune efficacy of vaccines and increasing the efficiency of vaccine screening. Antigenic drift and antigenic jump/shift, which arise from the accumulation of mutations with small or moderate effects and from a major, abrupt change with large effects on the surface antigen hemagglutinin (HA), respectively, are two types of antigenic variation that facilitate immune evasion of flu virus A and make it challenging to predict the antigenic properties of new viral strains. Despite considerable progress in modeling antigenic variation based on the amino acid sequences, few studies focus on the deep learning framework which could be most suitable to be applied to this task. Here, we propose a novel deep learning approach that incorporates a convolutional neural network (CNN) and bidirectional long-short-term memory (BLSTM) neural network to predict antigenic variation. In this approach, CNN extracts the complex local contexts of amino acids while the BLSTM neural network captures the long-distance sequence information. When compared to the existing methods, our deep learning approach achieves the overall highest prediction performance on the validation dataset, and more encouragingly, it achieves prediction agreements of 99.20% and 96.46% for the strains in the forthcoming year and in the next two years included in an existing set of chronological amino acid sequences, respectively. These results indicate that our deep learning approach is promising to be applied to antigenic variation prediction of flu virus A H3N2.