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The stalk domain of the hemagglutinin has been identified as a target for induction of protective antibody responses due to its high degree of conservation among numerous influenza subtypes and strains. However, current assays to measure stalk-based immunity are not standardized. Hence, harmonization of assay readouts would help to compare experiments conducted in different laboratories and increase confidence in results. Here, serum samples from healthy individuals (n = 110) were screened using a chimeric cH6/1 hemagglutinin enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) that measures stalk-reactive antibodies. We identified samples with moderate to high IgG anti-stalk antibody levels. Likewise, screening of the samples using the mini-hemagglutinin (HA) headless construct #4900 and analysis of the correlation between the two assays confirmed the presence and specificity of anti-stalk antibodies. Additionally, samples were characterized by a cH6/1N5 virus-based neutralization assay, an antibody-dependent cell-mediated cytotoxicity (ADCC) assay, and competition ELISAs, using the stalk-reactive monoclonal antibodies KB2 (mouse) and CR9114 (human). A "pooled serum" (PS) consisting of a mixture of selected serum samples was generated. The PS exhibited high levels of stalk-reactive antibodies, had a cH6/1N5-based neutralization titer of 320, and contained high levels of stalk-specific antibodies with ADCC activity. The PS, along with blinded samples of varying anti-stalk antibody titers, was distributed to multiple collaborators worldwide in a pilot collaborative study. The samples were subjected to different assays available in the different laboratories, to measure either binding or functional properties of the stalk-reactive antibodies contained in the serum. Results from binding and neutralization assays were analyzed to determine whether use of the PS as a standard could lead to better agreement between laboratories. The work presented here points the way towards the development of a serum standard for antibodies to the HA stalk domain of phylogenetic group 1.

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Department of Microbiology, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, One Gustave L. Levy Place, Box 1124, New York, NY 10029, USA.