Since inactivated influenza vaccines mainly confer protective immunity by inducing strain-specific antibodies to the viral hemagglutinin, these vaccines only afford protection against infection with antigenically matching influenza virus strains. Due to the continuous emergence of antigenic drift variants of seasonal influenza viruses and the inevitable future emergence of pandemic influenza viruses, there is considerable interest in the development of influenza vaccines that induce broader protective immunity. It has long been recognized that influenza virus-specific CD8+ T cells directed to epitopes located in the relatively conserved internal proteins can cross-react with various subtypes of influenza A virus. This implies that these CD8+ T cells, induced by prior influenza virus infections or vaccinations, could afford heterosubtypic immunity. Furthermore, influenza virus-specific CD4+ T cells have been shown to be important in protection from infection, either via direct cytotoxic effects or indirectly by providing help to B cells and CD8+ T cells. In the present paper, we review the induction of virus-specific T cell responses by influenza virus infection and the role of virus-specific CD4+ and CD8+ T cells in viral clearance and conferring protection from subsequent infections with homologous or heterologous influenza virus strains. Furthermore, we discuss vector-based vaccination strategies that aim at the induction of a cross-reactive virus-specific T cell response.

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Department of Virology

Altenburg, A., Rimmelzwaan, G., & de Vries, R. (2015). Virus-specific T cells as correlate of (cross-)protective immunity against influenza. Vaccine (Vol. 33, pp. 500–506). doi:10.1016/j.vaccine.2014.11.054