Findings could lead to improved vaccines for zoonotic diseases
A collaborative study led by The Pirbright Institute has provided insights that could lead to the design of better vaccinations for animals and humans.
Swine flu, such as the H1N1 strain that was one of the strains that caused a pandemic in 2009, is an important pathogen in pig herds and can also be dangerous for humans.
Current vaccines are designed to protect against viruses of similar ancestry, so the control of infections where the virus may originate in a different species (i.e. birds) remains a challenge.
Previous research shows that pigs infected with avian-like H1N1 influenza lineage are able to induce complete protection against both the strain and the 2009 pandemic lineage. It also found that protection was conferred, despite the absence of cross-reactive antibodies – suggesting the involvement of cross-reactive T-cells.
To investigate this further, a team led by Dr Maria Montoya, a specialist in porcine immunology at Pirbright, together with researchers from Spain and Denmark, used two lineages of the H1N1 strain of flu responsible for the 2009 pandemic.
Writing in the Journal of General Virology, they describe how they created a pipeline process, which helped them to identify specific T-cell epitopes (the parts of a virus that the immune system responds to).
“Influenza epitopes are little studied in pigs and there were only a few previously defined. Identifying these T-cell epitopes is an important step towards helping us understand the role of T-cells better in influenza infection,” explained Dr Montoya.
“It could also lead to the design of improved cross-protective vaccines in the future for zoonotic viruses such as flu, with life-saving potential for humans and animals.”