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Influenza virus antigenic variation, host antibody production and new approach to control epidemics

Jiezhong Chen1* and Yi-Mo Deng2

Author affiliations

1 John Curtin School of Medical Research, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia

2 WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza, North Melbourne, VIC 3051, Australia

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Citation and License

Virology Journal 2009, 6:30  doi:10.1186/1743-422X-6-30

Published: 13 March 2009

Abstract

Influenza is an infectious disease and can lead to life-threatening complications like pneumonia. The disease is caused by three types of RNA viruses called influenza types A, B and C, each consisting of eight negative single-stranded RNA-segments encoding 11 proteins. Current annual vaccines contain two type A strains and one type B strain and are capable of inducing strong antibody responses to both the surface glycoprotein hemagglutinin and the neuraminidase. While these vaccines are protective against vaccine viruses they are not effective against newly emerging viruses that contain antigenic variations known as antigenic drift and shift. In nature, environmental selection pressure generally plays a key role in selecting antigenic changes in the antigen determining spots of hemagglutinin, resulting in changes in the antigenicity of the virus. Recently, a new technology has been developed where influenza-specific IgG+ antibody-secreting plasma cells can be isolated and cloned directly from vaccinated humans and high affinity monoclonal antibodies can be produced within several weeks after vaccination. The new technology holds great promise for the development of effective passive antibody therapy to limit the spread of influenza viruses in a timely manner.