Identification of Hemagglutinin Mutations Caused by Neuraminidase Antibody Pressure

The balance in the functions of hemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase (NA) plays an important role in influenza virus genesis. However, whether and how N2 neuraminidase-specific antibodies may affect the attributes of HA remains to be investigated. In this study, we examined the presence of amino acid mutations in the HA of mutants selected by incubation with N2-specific monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) and compared the HA properties to those of the wild-type (WT) A/Chicken/Jiangsu/XXM/1999 (XXM) H9N2 virus. The higher NA inhibition (NI) ability of N2-specific MAbs was found to result in greater proportions of mutations in the HA head. The HA mutations affected the thermal stability, switched the binding preferences from α2,6-linked sialic acid receptor to α2,3-linked sialic acid receptor, and promoted viral growth in mouse lungs. These mutations also caused significant HA antigenic drift as they decreased hemagglutination inhibition (HI) titers. The evolutionary analysis also proved that some HA mutations were highly correlated with NA antibody pressure. Our data demonstrate that HA mutations caused by NA-specific antibodies affect HA properties and may contribute to HA evolution. IMPORTANCE HA binds with the sialic acid receptor on the host cell and initiates the infection mode of influenza virus. NA cleaves the connection between receptor and HA of newborn virus at the end of viral production. The HA-NA functional balance is crucial for viral production and interspecies transmission. Here, we identified mutations in the HA head of H9N2 virus caused by NA antibody pressure. These HA mutations changed the thermal stability and switched the receptor-binding preference of the mutant virus. The HI results indicated that these mutations resulted in significant antigenic drift in mutant HA. The evolutionary analysis also shows that some mutations in HA of H9N2 virus may be caused by NA antibody pressure and may correlate with the increase in H9N2 infections in humans. Our results provide new evidence for HA-NA balance and an effect of NA antibody pressure on HA evolution.