Antigenic differences between three of six equine influenza virus (H3N8) MDCK cell- and egg-derived pairs have been demonstrated using monoclonal and polyclonal antibodies. Sequencing of the haemagglutinin (HA) genes revealed amino acid changes in four of the six virus pairs. These data contrast with those for human isolates of influenza virus in that it was predominantly tissue culture-isolated equine virus and not egg-derived virus which displayed heterogeneity. Some of the molecular changes involved are located within the vicinity of the cell receptor-binding site (positions 156, 158 and 222) whereas others are in the vicinity of the HA1-HA2 cleavage site (positions 18 and 32 of HA1 and position 12 of HA2). Our results indicate that the host cell can play a part in selecting antigenic variants of equine influenza virus and suggest that the egg, and not cell culture as is the case for human isolates, is the preferred host for vaccine and antigenic studies.


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