Researchers have engineered human antibodies that protect animals against lethal doses of multiple strains of influenza virus. These antibodies, described online this week in Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, work with a broad array of influenza viral strains, including H5N1 avian flu and the H1N1 1918 Spanish flu.
After illness or vaccination, the body normally produces antibodies to protect itself from a future flu attack, but these antibodies usually neutralize only the same virus strain that infected it.
Wayne Marasco and colleagues selected broadly neutralizing antibodies against an influenza protein called hemagglutinin. Hemagglutinin anchors the virus to the host cells and promotes viral fusion, effectively allowing the virus to invade the cell. The antibodies prevented viral fusion by recognizing a region of hemagglutinin that is not very visible to the immune system and that does not show large variability among strains. In this way the antibodies were able to bind to 8 of the 16 existing types of influenza hemagglutinin tested.
In an accompanying News & Views article, Peter Palese says the work indicates that "a universal immune-based treatment or vaccine may not be out of reach".
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