Influenza a virus hemagglutinin trimer, head and stem proteins identify and quantify different hemagglutinin-specific b cell subsets in humans

Aafke Aartse, Dirk Eggink, Mathieu Claireaux, Sarah van Leeuwen, Petra Mooij, Willy M. Bogers, Rogier W. Sanders, Gerrit Koopman, Marit J. van Gils

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Antibody responses against the influenza A virus hemagglutinin (HA)-protein are studied intensively because they can protect against (re)infection. Previous studies have focused on antibodies targeting the head or stem domains, while other possible specificities are often not taken into account. To study such specificities, we developed a diverse set of HA-domain proteins based on an H1N1pdm2009-like influenza virus strain, including monomeric head and trimeric stem domain, as well as the full HA-trimer. These proteins were used to study the B cell and antibody responses in six healthy human donors. A large proportion of HA-trimer B cells bound exclusively to HA-trimer probe (54–77%), while only 8–18% and 9–23% were able to recognize the stem or head probe, respectively. Monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) were isolated and three of these mAbs, targeting the different domains, were characterized in-depth to confirm the binding profile observed in flow cytometry. The head-directed mAb, targeting an epitope distinct from known head-specific mAbs, showed relatively broad H1N1 neutralization and the stem-directed mAb was able to broadly neutralize diverse H1N1 viruses. Moreover, we identified a trimer-directed mAb that did not compete with known head or stem domain specific mAbs, suggesting that it targets an unknown epitope or conformation of influenza virus’ HA. These observations indicate that the described method can characterize the diverse antibody response to HA and might be able to identify HA-specific B cells and antibodies with previously unknown specificities that could be relevant for vaccine design.
Original languageEnglish
Article number717
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2021


  • Antibody responses
  • Head
  • Hemagglutinin
  • Influenza A virus
  • Stem
  • Trimer specific

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