The current inactivated influenza vaccines rely on the induction of neutralizing antibodies against the head domain of the viral hemagglutinin (HA). The HA head contains five immunodominant antigenic sites, all of which are subject to antigenic drift, thereby limiting vaccine efficacy. Bypassing the immune system’s tendency to focus on the most variable regions of the HA may be a step toward more broadly protective influenza vaccines. However, this requires a better understanding of the biological meaning of immunodominance, and of the hierarchy between different antigenic sites. In this issue of the JCI, Liu et al. determined the immunodominance of the five antigenic sites of the HA head in experimentally infected mice, guinea pigs, and ferrets. All three species exhibited different preferences for the five sites of the 2009 pandemic H1N1 strain. Moreover, human subjects exhibited yet a different pattern of immunodominance following immunization with the standard inactivated influenza vaccine. Together, these results have important implications for influenza vaccine design and interpretation of animal models.
Kristien Van Reeth