Antigenic variation of human respiratory syncytial (RS) virus strains was analysed using a collection of nine, six, six, nine and one monoclonal antibodies respectively directed against the large glycoprotein (G), fusion protein (F), matrix protein (M), nucleoprotein (NP) and phosphoprotein (P) components of the Long strain of RS virus. A comparison was made with seven other strains isolated during different years in radioimmune precipitation analyses and immune fluorescence tests. Two different subtypes of the virus were demonstrable. Subtype A included the prototype strains Long and A2 and virus isolates from 1973, 1983 and 1984; subtype B included four virus strains isolated in successive years from 1979 to 1982. Subtype A viruses reacted with all the antibodies, whereas subtype B viruses showed different epitope characteristics in four structural components. The number of altered epitopes were 5/6, 1/2, 2/6 and 1/6 in the G, F, M and NP components, respectively. It is concluded that the two subtypes have evolved separately. The finding of two subtypes may explain previously observed strain variations in neutralization tests, and gives a new perspective on the immunobiology of RS virus.


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