Described for the first time in 2001, human metapneumovirus (hMPV) has become one of the main viral pathogens responsible for acute respiratory tract infections in children but also in the elderly and immuno-compromised patients. The pathogen most closely related to hMPV is human respiratory syncytial virus (hRSV), the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in young children. hMPV has been classified into two main viral groups A and B and has a seasonal distribution in temperate countries with most cases occurring in winter and spring. Given the difficulties encountered in culturing hMPV in vitro, diagnosis is generally achieved using real-time polymerase chain reaction. Like other Paramyxoviridae, hMPV has a negative-sense single-stranded RNA genome that includes 8 genes coding for 9 different proteins. The genomic organization and functions of surface attachment and fusion glycoproteins are relatively similar to those of hRSV. Although many groups have studied the viral life cycle of hMPV, many questions remain unanswered concerning the exact roles of the viral proteins in the attachment, fusion and replication of hMPV. To date, there remains no approved modality to combat hMPV infections. The majority of treatments that have been tested on hMPV have already demonstrated activity against hRSV infections. Some innovative approaches based on RNA interference and on fusion inhibitors have shown efficacy in vitro and in animal studies and could be beneficial in treating human hMPV disease. Difficulties faced inducing a durable immune response represent the biggest challenge in the development of an effective hMPV vaccine. Several strategies, such as the use of live-attenuated viruses generated by reverse genetics or recombinant proteins, have been tested in animals with encouraging results.
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