H9N2 subtype avian influenza viruses have been identified in avian species worldwide, and infections in pigs were confirmed in Hong Kong in 1998. Subsequently, H9N2 viruses were isolated from two children in Hong Kong in 1999, and five human infections were reported from China, raising the possibility that H9N2 viruses pose a potential pandemic threat for humans. These events prompted us to develop a vaccine candidate to protect humans against this subtype of influenza A viruses. Reassortant H1N1 and H3N2 human influenza A viruses with the six internal gene segments of A/Ann Arbor/6/60 (H2N2)(AA) cold-adapted (ca) virus have been tested extensively in humans and have proved to be attenuated and safe as live virus vaccines. Using classical genetic reassortment, we generated a reassortant that contains the hemagglutinin and neuraminidase genes from A/chicken/Hong Kong/G9/97 (H9N2) and six internal gene segments from the AAca virus. The G9/AAca reassortant virus exhibits the ca phenotype and the temperature-sensitive phenotypes of the AAca virus and was attenuated in mice. The reassortant virus was immunogenic and protected mice from wild-type H9N2 virus challenge. The G9/AAca virus bears the in vitro and in vivo phenotypes specified by the AAca virus and will be evaluated as a potential vaccine candidate in humans.
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