New research has discovered that infection and natural exposure to the 1918 influenza virus made survivors immune to the disease for the remaining of their lives. Antibodies produced by cells isolated from these survivors served as an effective therapy to protect mice from the highly lethal 1918 infection. The study, “Neutralizing antibodies derived from the B cells of 1918 influenza pandemic survivors,” was released for advanced online publication by the journal Nature. Researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine’s Department of Microbiology contributed to the research findings. An estimated 50 million people were killed by the 1918 flu pandemic worldwide.
“Ninety years after survivors encountered the 1918 pandemic influenza virus, we collected antibody-producing B cells from them, and successfully isolated B cells that produce antibodies that block the viral infection,” said contributing author Christopher Basler, PhD, associate professor of microbiology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “The antibodies produced by these cells demonstrated remarkable power to block 1918 flu virus infection in mice, proving that, even nine decades after infection with this virus, survivors retain protection from it.”
“The fact that you can isolate these anti-1918 memory B cells so long after infection will hopefully provide the impetus to further study the mechanisms behind long lived immunity,” said Dr. Osvaldo Martinez, post-doctoral fellow at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
For this study, 32 individuals who were born before 1918 and lived through the influenza pandemic were recruited by Dr. Eric Altschuler at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey to donate blood which was tested by Basler’s lab for the presence of antibodies that recognize the 1918 virus. Dr. James Crowe and colleagues at Vanderbilt University produced antibodies from these individuals’ blood cells and provided these to Basler’s lab where the potent neutralizing activity against 1918 virus was demonstrated. Antibodies were also provided to Dr. Terrence Tumpey at the CDC to test in mice the strength of the antibodies derived from the 1918 survivors.
“Our findings show that survivors of the pandemic have highly effective, virus neutralizing antibodies to this powerful virus, and humans can sustain circulating B memory cells to viruses for up to nine decades after exposure,” said Dr. Tshidi Tsibane, post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Microbiology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “These findings could serve as potential therapy for another 1918-like virus.”
Vanderbilt University, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and The Scripps Research Institute collaborated on this research study.