Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Subtype H5N1 escaping neutralization: more than HA variation

Influenza A viruses are one of the major threats in modern health care. Novel viruses arise due to antigenic drift and antigenic shift, leading to escape from the immune system and resulting in a serious problem for disease control. In order to investigate the escape process and to enable predictions of escape, we serially passaged influenza A H5N1 virus in vitro 100 times under immune pressure. The generated escape viruses were characterized phenotypically and in detail by full genome deep sequencing. Mutations already found in natural isolates were detected, evidencing the in vivo relevance of the in vitro induced amino acid substitutions. Additionally, several novel alterations were triggered. Altogether, the results imply that our in vitro system is suitable to study influenza A virus evolution and that it might even be possible to predict antigenic changes of influenza A viruses circulating in vaccinated populations

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