PerspectiveMicrobiology

Taking down defenses to improve vaccines

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Science  19 Jan 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6373, pp. 277-278
DOI: 10.1126/science.aar5421

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Summary

Vaccines have been spectacularly successful in durable protection against a range of pathogens. However, they have been less successful against pathogens that have evolved immune escape mechanisms (1). For example, the influenza virus surface glycoprotein hemagglutinin (HA), which is the main target (antigen) for protective antibodies, shows enormous sequence diversity between different strains, meaning that antibodies induced by immune responses to one strain of the virus tend to be either inefficient or ineffective against other strains. This observation is often associated with the need for a new influenza vaccine every year. However, the escape mechanisms of influenza virus extend beyond antigenic variation of surface proteins. For example, wild-type viruses typically encountered in natural infection can suppress the host type I interferon (IFN-I) response, which provides the first line of defense against viral infections and promotes stimulation of an optimal immune response (2). On page 290 of this issue, Du et al. (3) describe the generation of a variant influenza virus that, in contrast to the wild type, is hyper-interferon-sensitive (HIS) and therefore attenuated (reduced in virulence). Attenuated viruses typically have lower immune responses than their wild-type counterparts but, in this case, the level of attenuation still resulted in robust immune responses. The authors propose that the HIS approach could form the basis for a more effective influenza vaccine.