A large panel of mouse monoclonal antibodies was produced and tested against field isolates of the equine H7N7 influenza A virus subtype. Only a limited degree of H7 haemagglutinin variation was detected. At least four antigenic sites were identified by selecting variant viruses in eggs. The limited variation in the field did not correlate with the frequency of variant viruses detected in eggs; this frequency was similar to those reported for other influenza viruses. We sought to determine whether the limited amount of variation could be correlated with an epitope-restricted antibody response in vaccinated horses. To this end, limiting dilution cultures were established with peripheral blood leukocytes from vaccinated ponies and the antibodies released into culture supernatants were assayed for binding to variant H7 viruses in ELISA. Three neutralizable antigenic sites mapped by mouse anti-bodies were also recognized by antibodies in pony limiting dilution culture supernatants, indicating that the equine antibody response against the influenza virus H7 haemagglutinin is diverse, and should be effective in selecting variant viruses.


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