Four successive generations of antigenic variants of influenza PR8-S virus, each derived from the previous one by serial passage in the lungs of mice immunized with the homologous agent, were compared with the original parent PR8-S virus with respect to their serological and immunological character. It was demonstrated by means of H.I., complement-fixation and in ovo-neutralization tests that the variants exhibited a progressively decreasing reactivity with the parent PR8-S antiserum while retaining the ability to elicit antibody to PR8-S influenza virus and to their respective predecessors. Accompanying these changes was a progressive reduction in antigenicity without any significant changes in pathogenicity for mice. Experimental evidence was presented which indicates that the serological changes observed with the variants are not related to the P-Q phenomenon.
Antibody absorption tests showed that the variants share antigens with PR8-S virus but differ from it by the presence of specific antigenic components; these increase in quantity with each successive variant while the amount of related antigens shows a progressive decrease.
The importance of evaluating the significance of antigenic changes of influenza viruses with active immunity tests was emphasized by the fact that PR8-S vaccine protected mice against fatal infection with lethal doses of the variant strains although the latter had a progressively decreasing serological reactivity with PR8-S antiserum.
The inheritable character of the new antigenic properties of the variant strains was demonstrated by their persistence in the absence of thea selective environment following 18 to 24 serial intranasal passages with large inocula in normal mice and following limiting dilution passage in fertile eggs.