The histopathology of fatal untreated human respiratory syncytial virus infection

Mod Pathol. 2007 Jan;20(1):108-19. doi: 10.1038/modpathol.3800725. Epub 2006 Nov 24.


The pathology of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection was evaluated 1 day after an outpatient diagnosis of RSV in a child who died in a motor vehicle accident. We then identified 11 children with bronchiolitis from the Vanderbilt University autopsy log between 1925 and 1959 who met criteria for possible RSV infection in the preintensivist era. Their tissue was re-embedded and evaluated by routine hematoxylin and eosin and PAS staining and immunostaining with RSV-specific antibodies. Tissue from three cases was immunostain-positive for RSV antigen and was examined in detail. Small bronchiole epithelium was circumferentially infected, but basal cells were spared. Both type 1 and 2 alveolar pneumocytes were also infected. Although, not possible for archival cases, tissue from the index case was evaluated by immunostaining with antibodies to define the cellular components of the inflammatory response. Inflammatory infiltrates were centered on bronchial and pulmonary arterioles and consisted of primarily CD69+ monocytes, CD3+ double-negative T cells, CD8+ T cells, and neutrophils. The neutrophil distribution was predominantly between arterioles and airways, while the mononuclear cell distribution was in both airways and lung parenchyma. Most inflammatory cells were concentrated submuscular to the airway, but many cells traversed the smooth muscle into the airway epithelium and lumen. Airway obstruction was a prominent feature in all cases attributed to epithelial and inflammatory cell debris mixed with fibrin, mucus, and edema, and compounded by compression from hyperplastic lymphoid follicles. These findings inform our understanding of RSV pathogenesis and may facilitate the development of new approaches for prevention and treatment.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, Viral / analysis*
  • Bronchiolitis, Viral / pathology
  • Bronchiolitis, Viral / virology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Dendritic Cells / pathology
  • Disease Progression
  • Fatal Outcome
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Infant
  • Lung / pathology
  • Lung / virology
  • Lymphoid Tissue / pathology
  • Macrophages, Alveolar / pathology
  • Macrophages, Alveolar / virology
  • Male
  • Monocytes / pathology
  • Respiratory Mucosa / pathology
  • Respiratory Mucosa / virology
  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infections / mortality
  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infections / pathology*
  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infections / virology
  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus, Human / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocytes / pathology


  • Antigens, Viral