The Antibody Response Against Neuraminidase in Human Influenza A (H3N2) Virus Infections During 2018/2019 Flu Season: Focusing on the Epitopes of 329- N-Glycosylation and E344 in N2

Seasonal influenza A (H3N2) virus has been a concern since its first introduction in humans in 1968. Accumulating antigenic changes in viral hemagglutinin (HA), particularly recent cocirculations of multiple HA genetic clades, allow H3N2 virus evade into humans annually. From 2010, the binding of neuraminidase (NA) to sialic acid made the traditional assay for HA inhibition antibodies (Abs) unsuitable for antigenicity characterization. Here, we investigated the serum anti-NA response in a cohort with a seroconversion of microneutralizing (MN) Abs targeting the circulating strain, A/Singapore/INFIMH-16-0019/2016 (H3N2, 3C.2a1)-like, a virus during 2018/2019 flu seasons. We discovered that MN Ab titers show no difference between children and adults. Nevertheless, higher titers of Abs with NA activity inhibition (NI) activity of 129 and seroconversion rate of 68.42% are presented in children aged 7-17 years (n = 19) and 73.47 and 41.17% in adults aged 21-59 years (n = 17), respectively. The MN Abs generated in children display direct correlations with HA- and NA-binding Abs or NI Abs. The NI activity exhibited cross-reactivity to N2 of H3N2 viruses of 2007 and 2013, commonly with 329-N-glycosylation and E344 in N2, a characteristic of earlier 3C.2a H3N2 virus in 2014. The percentage of such viruses pronouncedly decreased and was even replaced by those dominant H3N2 viruses with E344K and 329 non-glycosylation, which have a significantly low activity to the tested antisera. Our findings suggest that NI assay is a testable assay applied in H3N2 infection in children, and the antigenic drift of current N2 should be considered for vaccine selection.