The immune response to influenza A virus infection involves both B and T lymphocytes. Neutralizing antibody has been shown to be specific for four epitopes on the globular head of the haemagglutinin molecule. However, these sites show considerable variability between different virus strains and in the long term antibody immunity is limited. Helper T cells, which are essential for induction of antibody responses, react with different parts of the haemagglutinin molecule and with the other proteins of the virus. Cytoroxic T lymphocytes are important in recovery from infection. They also react with determinants shared by all influenza A viruses, particularly with virus nucleoprotein. Histocompatibility (HLA) antigens also play a role in T cell immunity to influenza virus. A better understanding of the nature of the antigen recognized by different components of the immune response should lead to more effective vaccines.
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