Influenza A vaccine based on the extracellular domain of M2: weak protection mediated via antibody-dependent NK cell activity.
Jegerlehner A., Schmitz N., Storni T., Bachmann MF.
Vaccination of mice with a peptide corresponding to the extracellular part of M2 protein coupled to the immunodominant domain of hepatitis B core can protect mice from a lethal challenge with influenza A virus. As the extracellular part of M2 protein is highly conserved in all known human influenza A strains, such a vaccine may protect against all human influenza A strains, which would represent a major advantage over current vaccine strategies. The present study demonstrates that protection is mediated exclusively by Abs, a very important feature of a successful preventive vaccine. However, these Abs neither bind efficiently to the free virus nor neutralize virus infection, but bind to M2 protein expressed on the surface of virus-infected cells. The presence of NK cells is important for protection, whereas complement is not, supposing that protection is mediated via Ab-dependent, cell-mediated cytotoxicity. The absence of neutralizing Abs results in much weaker protection than that achieved by vaccination with UV-inactivated influenza virus. Specifically, whereas neutralizing Abs completely eliminate signs of disease even at high viral challenge doses, M2-specific Abs cannot prevent infection, but merely reduce disease at low challenge doses. M2-specific Abs fail to protect from high challenge doses, as vaccinated mice undergo lethal infection under these conditions. In conclusion, protection mediated by M2-hepatitis B core vaccine would be insufficient during the yearly epidemics, for which full protection is desirable, and overall is clearly inferior to protection achieved by immunization with classical inactivated viral preparations.