Ion flux in the lung: virus-induced inflammasome activation

Trends Microbiol. 2014 Oct;22(10):580-8. doi: 10.1016/j.tim.2014.06.002. Epub 2014 Jun 29.


Innate immunity has a primary role in lung antimicrobial defenses. The inflammasome has evolved for this purpose and is an important surveillance system that, when triggered, fights infection and eliminates pathogens. However, there is growing evidence that the inflammasome also plays a role in the pathogenesis of acute and chronic respiratory disease. Inflammasomes contribute to both the clearance of the pathogen as well as its pathogenesis - depending on the amount of inflammation triggered. How respiratory viruses trigger inflammasome activation remains unclear. Emerging evidence shows that ion flux is responsible for triggering inflammasome activation in the lung, causing lung pathology and disease exacerbations. Viroporins, encoded by all common respiratory viruses, are responsible for the changes in intracellular ion homeostasis that modulate inflammasome activation. This is a novel mechanism by which respiratory viral infection activates inflammasomes, and identifies sensing of disturbances in intracellular ionic concentrations as a novel pathogen-recognition pathway in the lung.

Keywords: human rhinovirus; inflammasome; influenza A virus; ion channels; respiratory syncytial virus; respiratory viruses; severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus; viroporin.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate / immunology*
  • Inflammasomes / immunology*
  • Inflammation / immunology
  • Iron / metabolism*
  • Lung / immunology*
  • Virus Activation


  • Inflammasomes
  • Iron