Background: Influenza viruses show a significant capacity to evade host immunity; this is manifest both as large occasional jumps in the antigenic phenotype of viral surface molecules and in gradual antigenic changes leading to annual influenza epidemics in humans. Recent mouse studies show that avidity for host cells can play an important role in polyclonal antibody escape, and further that electrostatic charge of the hemagglutinin glycoprotein can contribute to such avidity. Methodology/Principal Findings: We test the role of glycoprotein charge on sequence data from the three major subtypes of influenza A in humans, using a simple method of calculating net glycoprotein charge. Of all subtypes, H3N2 in humans shows a striking pattern of increasing positive charge since its introduction in 1968. Notably, this trend applies to both hemagglutinin and neuraminidase glycoproteins. In the late 1980s hemagglutinin charge reached a plateau, while neuraminidase charge started to decline. We identify key groups of amino acid sites involved in this charge trend. Conclusions/Significance: To our knowledge these are the first indications that, for human H3N2, net glycoprotein charge covaries strongly with antigenic drift on a global scale. Further work is needed to elucidate how such charge interacts with other immune escape mechanisms, such as glycosylation, and we discuss important questions arising for future study.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)