Generation and characterization of monoclonal antibodies against the hemagglutinin of H3N2 influenza A viruses

Seasonal influenza viruses are highly contagious, leading to 290,000-650,000 mortalities every year globally. Among the influenza viruses, influenza A virus (H3N2) has attracted much attention due to its high frequency of antigenic variations, resulting in poor protection by vaccination. We generated a panel of murine neutralizing monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) against A/Texas/50/2012 (H3N2) and identified the relevant epitopes that potentially influence the antigenicity by selecting mAb-resistant mutants. The epitopes were mainly in antigenic site A (1/9, 11.1%), B (6/9, 66.7%), and C (1/9, 11.1%), which is consistent with recent reports on the immunodominance of antigenic site B. The amino acid substitutions at positions 156, 157, 159, 160, and 189 at antigenic site B resulted in decreased mAb capability for blocking receptor binding. In addition, the neutralizing spectra of three mAbs (1F8, 1G9 and 1H5) were different, suggesting that their epitopes may be different but partially overlapping, and it required further study. Further, the mAb 3F9 selected a new substitution, D53G/N, at antigenic site C and showed in vitro neutralizing activity against A/Victoria/361/2011 (H3N2), A/Texas/50/2012 (H3N2), and A/Hong Kong/2671/2019 (H3N2), suggesting a potential epitope on H3 hemagglutinin for inducing broad neutralizing antibody responses. Continuous research and regular monitoring of novel epitopes are of great importance for improving vaccine strain selection.