Journal of virology. 2016-10-01; 90.19: 8454-63.

Reversion of Cold-Adapted Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine into a Pathogenic Virus

Zhou B, Meliopoulos VA, Wang W, Lin X, Stucker KM, Halpin RA, Stockwell TB, Schultz-Cherry S, Wentworth DE

PMID: 27440882


The only licensed live attenuated influenza A virus vaccines (LAIVs) in the United States (FluMist) are created using internal protein-coding gene segments from the cold-adapted temperature-sensitive master donor virus A/Ann Arbor/6/1960 and HA/NA gene segments from circulating viruses. During serial passage of A/Ann Arbor/6/1960 at low temperatures to select the desired attenuating phenotypes, multiple cold-adaptive mutations and temperature-sensitive mutations arose. A substantial amount of scientific and clinical evidence has proven that FluMist is safe and effective. Nevertheless, no study has been conducted specifically to determine if the attenuating temperature-sensitive phenotype can revert and, if so, the types of substitutions that will emerge (i.e., compensatory substitutions versus reversion of existing attenuating mutations). Serial passage of the monovalent FluMist 2009 H1N1 pandemic vaccine at increasing temperatures in vitro generated a variant that replicated efficiently at higher temperatures. Sequencing of the variant identified seven nonsynonymous mutations, PB1-E51K, PB1-I171V, PA-N350K, PA-L366I, NP-N125Y, NP-V186I, and NS2-G63E. None occurred at positions previously reported to affect the temperature sensitivity of influenza A viruses. Synthetic genomics technology was used to synthesize the whole genome of the virus, and the roles of individual mutations were characterized by assessing their effects on RNA polymerase activity and virus replication kinetics at various temperatures. The revertant also regained virulence and caused significant disease in mice, with severity comparable to that caused by a wild-type 2009 H1N1 pandemic virus.