Máiréid Bull published with Leo Poon and Sophie Valkenburg the work of her PhD thesis in Science Advances, examining the effects of T cell pressure on the flu genome in the context of Next Gen vaccination.
To determine the potential for viral adaptation to T cell responses, we probed the full influenza virus genome by next-generation sequencing directly ex vivo from infected mice, in the context of an experimental T cell–based vaccine, an H5N1-based viral vectored vaccinia vaccine Wyeth/IL-15/5Flu, versus the current standard-of-care, seasonal inactivated influenza vaccine (IIV) and unvaccinated conditions. Wyeth/IL-15/5Flu vaccination was coincident with increased mutation incidence and frequency across the influenza genome; however, mutations were not enriched within T cell epitope regions, but high allele frequency mutations within conserved hemagglutinin stem regions and PB2 mammalian adaptive mutations arose.
Depletion of CD4+ and CD8+ T cell subsets led to reduced frequency of mutants in vaccinated mice; therefore, vaccine-mediated T cell responses were important drivers of virus diversification. Our findings suggest that Wyeth/IL-15/5Flu does not generate T cell escape mutants but increases stochastic events for virus adaptation by stringent bottlenecks.