Relationship between haemagglutination inhibition titre and immunity to influenza in ferrets

Paul S. Wikramaratna, Andrew Rambaut

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Our understanding of the antigenic evolution of the human influenza virus is chiefly derived from experiments in which serum from influenza infected ferrets is tested against panels of virus isolates in the haemagglutination inhibition (HI) assay. The interpretation of these results has been much aided by the development of antigenic mapping techniques, which suppose that the antigenic distance between two different influenza viruses is directly proportional to their fold-difference in titre in this assay. Yet, antigenic distance is not necessarily the same as cross-protection, and high levels of protection have been observed in humans against strains to which they have low HI titres. However, no study has previously addressed the relationship between HI titre and cross-protection in ferrets: the standard animal model. This study fills this gap by analysing published data where pre-challenge HI titres are available for individual ferrets, and post-challenge outcomes have been recorded. Ultimately, this work confirms that it is the absolute, rather than relative, HI titre that determines the extent of immunity and that there is a threshold HI titre beyond which ferrets are completely protected from infection. Nevertheless, this titre is much higher in ferrets than has been suggested for humans. Further, we are consequently able to show that using distance between strains within an antigenic map to predict cross-protection between influenza viruses can be misleading.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5380-5385
Number of pages6
Issue number41
Publication statusPublished - 5 Oct 2015


  • Antigenic evolution
  • Ferrets
  • Haemagglutination inhibition assay
  • Influenza

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