Cross Protection against Influenza A Virus by Yeast-Expressed Heterologous Tandem Repeat M2 Extracellular Proteins

The influenza M2 ectodomain (M2e) is well conserved across human influenza A subtypes, but there are few residue changes among avian and swine origin influenza A viruses. We expressed a tandem repeat construct of heterologous M2e sequences (M2e5x) derived from human, swine, and avian origin influenza A viruses using the yeast expression system. Intramuscular immunization of mice with AS04-adjuvanted M2e5x protein vaccines was effective in inducing M2e-specific antibodies reactive to M2e peptide and native M2 proteins on the infected cells with human, swine, or avian influenza virus, mucosal and systemic memory cellular immune responses, and cross-protection against H3N2 virus. Importantly, M2e5x immune sera were found to confer protection against different subtypes of H1N1 and H5N1 influenza A viruses in naïve mice. Also, M2e5x-immune complexes of virus-infected cells stimulated macrophages to secrete cytokines via Fc receptors, indicating a possible mechanism of protection. The present study provides evidence that M2e5x proteins produced in yeast cells could be developed as a potential universal influenza vaccine.