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Study: The global antigenic diversity of swine influenza A viruses

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  • Study: The global antigenic diversity of swine influenza A viruses


    The global antigenic diversity of swine influenza A viruses

    Nicola S Lewis Colin A Russell Pinky Langat Tavis K Anderson Kathryn Berger Filip Bielejec David F Burke Gytis Dudas Judith M Fonville Ron AM Fouchier Paul Kellam Bjorn F Koel Philippe Lemey Tung Nguyen Bundit Nuansrichy JS Malik Peiris Takehiko Saito Gaelle Simon Eugene Skepner Nobuhiro Takemae ESNIP3 consortium Richard J Webby Kristien Van Reeth Sharon M Brookes Lars Larsen Simon J Watson Ian H Brown Amy L Vincent

    University of Cambridge, United Kingdom; Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, United Kingdom; USDA-ARS, United States; Rega Institute for Medical Research, Belgium; University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom; Erasmus Medical Center, Netherlands; National Centre for Veterinary Diagnostics, Vietnam; National Institute of Animal Health, Thailand; The University of Hong Kong, China; National Institute of Animal Health, Japan; Anses, Ploufragan-Plouzan? Laboratory, France; St Jude Children's Research Hospital, United States; Ghent University, Belgium; Animal Health and Plant Agency, United Kingdom; Technical University of Denmark, Denmark

    Published April 15, 2016
    Cite as eLife 2016;5:e12217


    Swine influenza presents a substantial disease burden for pig populations worldwide and poses a potential pandemic threat to humans. There is considerable diversity in both H1 and H3 influenza viruses circulating in swine due to the frequent introductions of viruses from humans and birds coupled with geographic segregation of global swine populations. Much of this diversity is characterized genetically but the antigenic diversity of these viruses is poorly understood. Critically, the antigenic diversity shapes the risk profile of swine influenza viruses in terms of their epizootic and pandemic potential. Here, using the most comprehensive set of swine influenza virus antigenic data compiled to date, we quantify the antigenic diversity of swine influenza viruses on a multi-continental scale. The substantial antigenic diversity of recently circulating viruses in different parts of the world adds complexity to the risk profiles for the movement of swine and the potential for swine-derived infections in humans.

    Influenza viruses, commonly called flu, infect millions of people and animals every year and occasionally causes pandemics in humans. The immune system can neutralise flu viruses by recognising the proteins on the virus surface, generically referred to as antigens. These antigens change as flu viruses evolve to escape detection by the immune system. These changes tend to be relatively small such that exposure to one flu virus generates immunity that is still effective against other related flu viruses. However, over time, the accumulation of these small changes can result in larger differences such that prior infections no longer provide protection against the new virus.

    Influenza A viruses infect a wide variety of birds and mammals. Viruses can also transmit from one species to another, which may result in the introduction of viruses with antigens that are new to the recipient species and which have the potential to cause substantial outbreaks. Pig flu viruses have long been considered to be a potential risk for human pandemic viruses and were the source of the 2009 pandemic H1N1 virus. Importantly, humans often transmit flu viruses to pigs. Understanding the dynamics and consequences of this two-way transmission is important for designing effective strategies to detect and respond to new strains of flu.

    Influenza A viruses of the H1 and H3 subtypes circulate widely in pigs. However, it was poorly understood how closely related swine and human viruses circulating in different regions were to one another and how much the antigens varied between the different viruses.

    Lewis, Russell et al. have now analysed the antigenic variation of hundreds of H1 and H3 viruses from pigs on multiple continents. The antigenic diversity of recent swine flu viruses resembles the diversity of H1 and H3 viruses observed in humans over the last 40 years. A key factor driving the diversity of the H1 and H3 viruses in pigs is the frequent introduction of human viruses to pigs. In contrast, only one flu virus from a bird had contributed to the observed antigenic diversity in pigs in a substantial way.

    Once in pigs, human-derived flu viruses continue to evolve their antigens. This results in a tremendous diversity of flu viruses that can be transmitted to other pigs and also to humans. These flu viruses could pose a serious risk to public health because they are no longer similar to the current human flu strains. These findings have important implications not only for developing flu vaccines for pigs but also for informing the development of more-effective surveillance and disease-control strategies to prevent the spread of new flu variants...