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Lisa C Lindesmith, Florencia A T Boshier, Paul D Brewer-Jensen, Sunando Roy, Veronica Costantini, Michael L Mallory, Mark Zweigart, Samantha R May, Helen Conrad, Kathleen M O’Reilly, Daniel Kelly, Cristina C Celma, Stuart Beard, Rachel Williams, Helena J Tutill, Sylvia Becker Dreps, Filemón Bucardo, David J Allen, Jan Vinjé, Richard A Goldstein, Judith Breuer, Ralph S Baric


Understanding the complex interactions between virus and host that drive new strain evolution is key to predicting the emergence potential of variants and informing vaccine development. Under our hypothesis, future dominant human norovirus GII.4 variants with critical antigenic properties that allow them to spread are currently circulating undetected, having diverged years earlier. Through large-scale sequencing of GII.4 surveillance samples, we identified two variants with extensive divergence within domains that mediate neutralizing antibody binding. Subsequent serological characterization of these strains using temporally resolved adult and child sera suggests that neither candidate could spread globally in adults with multiple GII.4 exposures, yet young children with minimal GII.4 exposure appear susceptible. Antigenic cartography of surveillance and outbreak sera indicates that continued population exposure to GII.4 Sydney 2012 and antigenically related variants over a 6-year period resulted in a broadening of immunity to heterogeneous GII.4 variants, including those identified here. We show that the strongest antibody responses in adults exposed to GII.4 Sydney 2012 are directed to previously circulating GII.4 viruses. Our data suggest that the broadening of antibody responses compromises establishment of strong GII.4 Sydney 2012 immunity, thereby allowing the continued persistence of GII.4 Sydney 2012 and modulating the cycle of norovirus GII.4 variant replacement. Our results indicate a cycle of norovirus GII.4 variant replacement dependent upon population immunity. Young children are susceptible to divergent variants; therefore, emergence of these strains worldwide is driven proximally by changes in adult serological immunity and distally by viral evolution that confers fitness in the context of immunity. IMPORTANCE In our model, preepidemic human norovirus variants harbor genetic diversification that translates into novel antigenic features without compromising viral fitness. Through surveillance, we identified two viruses fitting this profile, forming long branches on a phylogenetic tree. Neither evades current adult immunity, yet young children are likely susceptible. By comparing serological responses, we demonstrate that population immunity varies by age/exposure, impacting predicted susceptibility to variants. Repeat exposure to antigenically similar variants broadens antibody responses, providing immunological coverage of diverse variants but compromising response to the infecting variant, allowing continued circulation. These data indicate norovirus GII.4 variant replacement is driven distally by virus evolution and proximally by immunity in adults.


Lindesmith LC, Boshier FAT, Brewer-Jensen PD, Roy S, Costantini V, Mallory ML, Zweigart M, May SR, Conrad H, O’Reilly KM, Kelly D, Celma CC, Beard S, Williams R, Tutill HJ, Becker Dreps S, Bucardo F, Allen DJ, Vinjé J, Goldstein RA, Breuer J, Baric RS. Immune Imprinting Drives Human Norovirus Potential for Global Spread. mBio. 2022 Sep 14:e0186122. doi: 10.1128/mbio.01861-22. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 36102514.

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