Germinal center (GC) B cells at viral replication sites acquire specificity to poorly immunogenic but conserved influenza hemagglutinin (HA) epitopes. Here, high-throughput epitope mapping of local GC B cells is used to identify conserved HA epitope selecting cross-reactive antibodies that mediate heterosubtypic protection. A distinct feature of this epitope is an occlusion in the naive trimeric HA structure that is exposed in the post-fusion HA structure to occur under low pH conditions during viral replication. Importantly, systemic immunization by the post-fusion HA antigen results in GC B cells targeting the occluded epitope, and induces a class of protective antibodies that have cross-group specificity and afford protection independent of virus neutralization activity. Furthermore, this class of broadly protective antibodies develops at late time points and persists. Our results identify a class of cross-protective antibodies that are selected at the viral replication site, and provide insights into vaccine strategies using the occluded epitope.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- General Chemistry
- General Biochemistry,Genetics and Molecular Biology
- General Physics and Astronomy