Human coronaviruses (hCoVs) can be divided into low pathogenic and highly pathogenic coronaviruses. The low pathogenic CoVs infect the upper respiratory tract and cause mild, cold-like respiratory illness. In contrast, highly pathogenic hCoVs such as severe acute respiratory syndrome CoV (SARS-CoV) and Middle East respiratory syndrome CoV (MERS-CoV) predominantly infect lower airways and cause fatal pneumonia. Severe pneumonia caused by pathogenic hCoVs is often associated with rapid virus replication, massive inflammatory cell infiltration and elevated pro-inflammatory cytokine/chemokine responses resulting in acute lung injury (ALI), and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Recent studies in experimentally infected animal strongly suggest a crucial role for virus-induced immunopathological events in causing fatal pneumonia after hCoV infections. Here we review the current understanding of how a dysregulated immune response may cause lung immunopathology leading to deleterious clinical manifestations after pathogenic hCoV infections.
Keywords: Cytokine storm; Immunopathology; Interferon; MERS-CoV; Monocyte-macrophage; SARS-CoV.