Department of Microbiology, University of Mississippi Medical Center, 2500 N State St, Jackson, MS 39216, USA.
Influenza A virus evolution in humans is driven at least in part by mutations allowing the virus to escape antibody neutralization. Little is known about the evolution of influenza in birds, a major reservoir of influenza A.
Neutralizing polyclonal antiserum was raised in chicken against reassortant influenza virus, CalX, bearing the hemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase (NA) of A/California/7/2004 [H3N2]. CalX was serially passaged in the presence of anti-CalX polyclonal IgY to derive viruses capable of growth in the presence of antibody.
Polyclonal chicken antibody neutralized both HA activity and infection by CalX, but had no effect on a strain bearing an earlier human H3 and an irrelevant neuraminidase (A/Memphis/71-Bellamy/42 [H3N1]). Surprisingly, most of the antibody-resistant viruses were still at least partially sensitive to neutralization of HA activity and viral infection. Although mutant HA genes bearing changes that might affect antibody neutralization were identified, the vast majority of HA sequences obtained were identical to wild type, and no individual mutant sequence was found in more than one passage, suggesting that those mutations that were observed did not confer sufficient selective advantage to come to dominate the population. Different passages yielded infectious foci of varying size and plaques of varying size and morphology. Yields of infectious virus and relative frequency of different morphologies changed markedly from passage to passage. Sequences of bulk, uncloned PCR products from antibody-resistant passages indicated changes in the PB2 and PA proteins with respect to the wild type virus.
Each antibody-selected passage consisted of a variety of different cocirculating populations, rather than pure populations of virus able to escape antibody by changes in antibody epitopes. The ability to escape antibody is apparently due to changes in genes encoding the viral polymerase complex, probably resulting in more robust viral replication, allowing the few virus particles not completely neutralized by antibody to rapidly produce large numbers of progeny. Our data suggest that the relative success of an individual variant may depend on both its own gain and loss of fitness, as well as that of its cocirculating variants.