Relative respiratory syncytial virus cytopathogenesis in upper and lower respiratory tract epithelium

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2013 Oct 1;188(7):842-51. doi: 10.1164/rccm.201304-0750OC.


Rationale: Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a major pathogen that primarily infects airway epithelium. Most infants suffer mild upper respiratory tract (URT) symptoms, whereas approximately one-third progress to lower respiratory tract (LRT) involvement. Despite the ubiquity of URT infection, little is known about the relative cytopathogenesis of RSV infection in infant URT and LRT.

Objectives: This study aimed to compare RSV cytopathogenesis in nasal- and bronchial-derived epithelium from the same individuals using novel models derived from well-differentiated primary pediatric nasal (WD-PNECs) and bronchial epithelial cells (WD-PBECs).

Methods: WD-PNECs and WD-PBECs were generated from nasal and bronchial brushes, respectively, and mock-infected or infected with RSV BT2a. RSV tropism, infectivity, cytopathology, growth kinetics, cell sloughing, apoptosis, and cytokine and chemokine responses were determined.

Measurements and main results: RSV infection in both cultures was restricted to apical ciliated cells and occasional nonciliated cells but not goblet cells. It did not cause gross cytopathology. Infection resulted in apical release of progeny virus, increased apical cell sloughing, apoptosis, and occasional syncytia. RSV growth kinetics and peak titers were higher in WD-PBECs, coincident with higher ciliated cell contents, cell sloughing, and slightly compromised tight junctions. However, proinflammatory chemokine responses were similar for both cultures. Also, lambda IFNs, especially IL-29, were induced by RSV infection.

Conclusions: RSV induced remarkably similar, albeit quantitatively lower, cytopathogenesis and proinflammatory responses in WD-PNECs compared with WD-PBECs that reproduce many hallmarks of RSV pathogenesis in infants. WD-PNECs may provide an authentic surrogate model with which to study RSV cytopathogenesis in infant airway epithelium.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bronchi / immunology
  • Bronchi / pathology
  • Bronchi / virology*
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Chemokines / immunology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cytokines / immunology
  • Cytopathogenic Effect, Viral / immunology
  • Epithelial Cells / immunology
  • Epithelial Cells / pathology
  • Epithelial Cells / virology
  • Humans
  • Ireland
  • Nasal Mucosa / immunology
  • Nasal Mucosa / pathology
  • Nasal Mucosa / virology*
  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infections / immunology
  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infections / pathology*
  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infections / virology
  • Respiratory Syncytial Viruses
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / immunology
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / pathology
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / virology*
  • Virus Replication


  • Chemokines
  • Cytokines