Influenza viruses cause annual seasonal epidemics and occasional pandemics of human respiratory disease. Influenza virus infections represent a serious public health and economic problem, which are most effectively prevented through vaccination. However, influenza viruses undergo continual antigenic variation, which requires either the annual reformulation of seasonal influenza vaccines or the rapid generation of vaccines against potential pandemic virus strains. The segmented nature of influenza virus allows for the reassortment between two or more viruses within a co-infected cell, and this characteristic has also been harnessed in the laboratory to generate reassortant viruses for their use as either inactivated or live-attenuated influenza vaccines. With the implementation of plasmid-based reverse genetics techniques, it is now possible to engineer recombinant influenza viruses entirely from full-length complementary DNA copies of the viral genome by transfection of susceptible cells. These reverse genetics systems have provided investigators with novel and powerful approaches to answer important questions about the biology of influenza viruses, including the function of viral proteins, their interaction with cellular host factors and the mechanisms of influenza virus transmission and pathogenesis. In addition, reverse genetics techniques have allowed the generation of recombinant influenza viruses, providing a powerful technology to develop both inactivated and live-attenuated influenza vaccines. In this review, we will summarize the current knowledge of state-of-the-art, plasmid-based, influenza reverse genetics approaches and their implementation to provide rapid, convenient, safe and more effective influenza inactivated or live-attenuated vaccines.
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