Background: Cellular immune responses play a critical role in providing help for the production of neutralizing antibodies to influenza virus, as well as producing anti-viral cytokines and killing infected cells in the lung. Heterosubtypic T-cell responses between different subtypes of influenza have been shown to exist in humans and to provide protection against morbidity and mortality associated with H5N1 infection in animal challenge models. Therefore, existing T-cell responses induced by natural infection or vaccination in humans may provide some degree of protection from infection with H5N1 strains, or may attenuate the severity of disease. Objectives: To investigate heterosubtypic T-cell responses to avian influenza in humans. Methods: T-cell responses to an overlapping set of H5 HA peptides and inactivated viruses (H1N1, H3N2 and H5N1) were assessed using IFN-c and IL-2 enzyme-linked immunospot (ELISpot) assays in a cohort of adults either vaccinated against seasonal influenza in the last 3 years (n = 20) or previously infected (n = 40). Results: T-cell responses to all three subtypes of virus were found in both infected and vaccinated individuals by IFN-c and IL-2 ELISpot assays. Approximately half of the participants from each group had a positive T-cell response to the H5 HA peptides in the IFN-γ or IL-2 ELISpot assay. Conclusions: Heterosubtypic T-cell responses to H5 HA occur quite frequently in vaccinated and infected individuals. Further investigation of these responses and what role they may play upon challenge or vaccination against H5N1 may assist in vaccine design for avian influenza.
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