We have examined whether active immunization with c13 protein, a hybrid protein of the first 81 amino acids of the viral NS1 nonstructural protein and the HA2 subunit of A/PR/8 (H1N1) hemagglutinin, could protect BALB/c mice from challenge with A/PR/8 H1 subtype virus. Mice immunized with the c13 protein had a significant reduction of pulmonary virus titers with A/PR/8 (H1) virus, but failed to limit the replication of A/PC (H3) virus, which reflects the in vitro CTL activity of c13 immune spleen cells. We observed that the epitope recognized by HA2 specific CTL, which are induced by a derivative of c13 protein, is highly conserved among H1 and H2 subtype virus strains. This led us to test whether active immunization with c13 protein would also limit pulmonary virus replication in mice infected with the A/TW virus, a virus of the H1 subtype, which was isolated in 1986, and with a virus of the H2 subtype, A/Japan/305/57. Immunized mice had significantly lower lung virus titers than did control mice, and did not possess any neutralizing antibodies to the challenger viruses. These results indicate that active immunization with a fusion protein containing the cross-reactive CTL epitope protects mice from influenza infection by inducing CTL against influenza A H1 and H2 subtype virus strains, which markedly vary in their antibody binding sites on the HA1. The ability to induce active cross-reactive immunization with a fusion protein which contains a highly conserved CTL epitope offers a model for vaccine approaches against viruses which undergo significant variations in their antibody binding sites.

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