Propagation of respiratory viruses in human airway epithelia reveals persistent virus-specific signatures

J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2018 Jun;141(6):2074-2084. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2017.07.018. Epub 2017 Aug 8.


Background: The leading cause of acute illnesses, respiratory viruses, typically cause self-limited diseases, although severe complications can occur in fragile patients. Rhinoviruses (RVs), respiratory enteroviruses (EVs), influenza virus, respiratory syncytial viruses (RSVs), and coronaviruses are highly prevalent respiratory pathogens, but because of the lack of reliable animal models, their differential pathogenesis remains poorly characterized.

Objective: We sought to compare infections by respiratory viruses isolated from clinical specimens using reconstituted human airway epithelia.

Methods: Tissues were infected with RV-A55, RV-A49, RV-B48, RV-C8, and RV-C15; respiratory EV-D68; influenza virus H3N2; RSV-B; and human coronavirus (HCoV)-OC43. Replication kinetics, cell tropism, effect on tissue integrity, and cytokine secretion were compared. Viral adaptation and tissue response were assessed through RNA sequencing.

Results: RVs, RSV-B, and HCoV-OC43 infected ciliated cells and caused no major cell death, whereas H3N2 and EV-D68 induced ciliated cell loss and tissue integrity disruption. H3N2 was also detected in rare goblet and basal cells. All viruses, except RV-B48 and HCoV-OC43, altered cilia beating and mucociliary clearance. H3N2 was the strongest cytokine inducer, and HCoV-OC43 was the weakest. Persistent infection was observed in all cases. RNA sequencing highlighted perturbation of tissue metabolism and induction of a transient but important immune response at 4 days after infection. No majority mutations emerged in the viral population.

Conclusion: Our results highlight the differential in vitro pathogenesis of respiratory viruses during the acute infection phase and their ability to persist under immune tolerance. These data help to appreciate the range of disease severity observed in vivo and the occurrence of chronic respiratory tract infections in immunocompromised hosts.

Keywords: Respiratory virus; cytokines; cytotoxicity; immune response; mucociliary clearance; pathogenesis; persistence; rhinovirus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • RNA Virus Infections / physiopathology*
  • RNA Virus Infections / virology*
  • RNA Viruses
  • Respiratory Mucosa / virology*