Use of GFP-expressing influenza viruses for the detection of influenza virus A/H5N1 neutralizing antibodies
The hemagglutination inhibition (HI) assay is used most commonly for the detection of antibodies to influenza viruses. However, for the detection of antibodies to avian influenza viruses of the H5N1 subtype either induced by infection or by vaccination, the HI assay is insensitive. Therefore, the virus neutralization (VN) assay has become the method of choice to detect human serum antibodies directed to these viruses. However, this assay requires a second assay for the detection of residual virus replication, which makes it laborious to perform and less suitable for high throughput testing of large numbers of samples. Here we describe an alternative method for the detection of these antibodies, which is based on the use of reporter viruses that express the green fluorescent protein (GFP) upon infection of target cells. GFP-expressing viruses were generated carrying the HA of a variety of antigenically distinct H5N1 influenza viruses. The method proved easy to perform and could be carried out rapidly. Using a panel of antisera raised against H5N1 influenza viruses, the assay based on GFP expressing viruses was compared with the classical virus neutralization assay and the hemagglutination inhibition assay. In general, the results obtained in these assays correlated well. It was concluded that the assay based on the reporter viruses is an attractive alternative for the classical virus neutralization assay and suitable for large sero-epidemiological studies or for the assessment of vaccine efficacy in clinical trials.