Interleukin 9 production in the lungs of infants with severe respiratory syncytial virus bronchiolitis

Lancet. 2004 Mar 27;363(9414):1031-7. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(04)15838-8.


Background: Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) bronchiolitis is the most prevalent acute wheezing disorder in infants and is associated with recurrent wheeze and asthma in childhood. Interleukin 9, a type 2 cytokine has been proposed as a key cytokine in susceptibility to asthma. We aimed to investigate whether interleukin 9 was produced in the lungs of infants with severe RSV disease and if found, from which cells it originated.

Methods: We did 150 non-bronchoscopic bronchoalveolar lavages during the course of ventilation in 24 term infants and 21 preterm infants ventilated for RSV bronchiolitis. We also did 10 bronchoalveolar lavages on the day of intubation in 10 control infants ventilated for non-respiratory causes. We measured pulmonary interleukin 9 mRNA and protein in samples from all groups. We used immunostaining to identify the cells that produce interleukin 9.

Findings: Interleukin 9 mRNA expression, which persisted over the course of ventilation, was noted in all infants with bronchiolitis. Three of the control group also showed interleukin 9 mRNA expression. Median interleukin 9 protein concentration on day 1 (1.9 microg/L [range 0.1-36.2]) was significantly greater in term infants with bronchiolitis than either preterm infants (0.4 microg/L [0.1-2.9]; p<0.05) or the control group (0.7 microg/L [0.4-2.5]; p<0.05). There was a trend for interleukin 9 protein concentrations in term, but not preterm infants to decrease over time. Immunostained cell smears showed that most interleukin 9 expression in bronchoalveolar lavage was by neutrophils.

Interpretation: In term infants with RSV bronchiolitis, we noted large amounts of interleukin 9 mRNA and interleukin 9 protein. Neutrophils seem to be the main source of this type 2 cytokine. Interleukin 9 production by neutrophils may contribute to the pathogenesis of RSV disease. These findings may be relevant to other disease processes in the lung where neutrophils are the predominant inflammatory cell type.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Autoradiography
  • Bronchiolitis, Viral / immunology*
  • Bronchoalveolar Lavage
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
  • Female
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Interleukin-9 / biosynthesis*
  • Interleukin-9 / genetics
  • Interleukin-9 / immunology
  • Lung / cytology
  • Lung / immunology*
  • Lung / metabolism
  • Male
  • Neutrophils / chemistry
  • Neutrophils / immunology
  • Neutrophils / metabolism
  • RNA, Messenger / analysis
  • Respiration, Artificial
  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infections / immunology*
  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infections / metabolism
  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infections / virology
  • Respiratory Syncytial Viruses / isolation & purification*


  • Interleukin-9
  • RNA, Messenger