Antigenic variants of A/PR/8/34 [HON1] influenza virus were selected after a single passage of the parent virus in embryonated chicken eggs in the presence of monoclonal antibodies to this virus. The monoclonal antibodies were produced by a hybridoma and were specific for an antigenic determinant on the HA molecule of the parent virus. Seven antigenic variants were analyzed with 95 monoclonal anti-HA antibodies prepared in vitro in the splenic fragment culture system.
Three subgroups of antigenic variants were distinguished. The antigenic changes were primarily recognized by monoclonal antibodies to the strain- specific determinants of the parental hemagglutinin (HA) molecule. Monoclonal antibodies to HA determinants shared (in an identical or cross-reactive form) by parental virus and more than three heterologous viruses of the HON1 and H1N1 subtypes were unable to recognize the antigenic change on the variants. Similarly, heterogeneous antibody preparations could not differentiate between parental and variant viruses.
The results are compatible with the idea that the HA of PR8 has available a large repertoire of antigenic modifications that may result from single amino acid substitutions, and that antigenic changes can occur in the strain- specific determinants on the HA molecule in the absence of concomitant changes in the cross-reactive HA determinants. The findings suggest that antigenic drift, in order to be epidemiologically significant, probably requires a series of amino acid substitutions in, or close to, the antigenic area on the HA molecule.