Avian H7N9 influenza viruses cause sporadic outbreaks of human infections and threaten to cause a major pandemic. The breadth of B cell responses to natural infection and the dominant antigenic sites recognized during first exposure to H7 HA following infection are incompletely understood. Here, we studied the B cell response to H7 HA of 2 individuals who had recovered from natural H7N9 virus infection. We used competition binding, hydrogen-deuterium mass spectrometry, and single-particle negative stain electron microscopy to identify the patterns of molecular recognition of the antibody responses to H7 HA. We found that circulating H7-reactive B cells recognized a diverse antigenic landscape on the HA molecule, including HA head domain epitopes in antigenic sites A and B and in the trimer interface-II region and epitopes in the stem region. Most H7 antibodies exhibited little heterosubtypic breadth, but many recognized a wide diversity of unrelated H7 strains. We tested the antibodies for functional activity and identified clones with diverse patterns of inhibition, including neutralizing, hemagglutination- or egress-inhibiting, or HA trimer–disrupting activities. Thus, the human B cell response to primary H7 natural infection is diverse, highly functional, and broad for recognition of diverse H7 strains.
Iuliia M. Gilchuk, Sandhya Bangaru, Nurgun Kose, Robin G. Bombardi, Andrew Trivette, Sheng Li, Hannah L. Turner, Robert H. Carnahan, Andrew B. Ward, James E. Crowe Jr.