Cytokine Responses to Rhinovirus and Development of Asthma, Allergic Sensitization, and Respiratory Infections during Childhood

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2018 May 15;197(10):1265-1274. doi: 10.1164/rccm.201708-1762OC.


Rationale: Immunophenotypes of antiviral responses, and their relationship with asthma, allergy, and lower respiratory tract infections, are poorly understood.

Objectives: We characterized multiple cytokine responses of peripheral blood mononuclear cells to rhinovirus stimulation, and their relationship with clinical outcomes.

Methods: In a population-based birth cohort, we measured 28 cytokines after stimulation with rhinovirus-16 in 307 children aged 11 years. We used machine learning to identify patterns of cytokine responses, and related these patterns to clinical outcomes, using longitudinal models. We also ascertained phytohemagglutinin-induced T-helper cell type 2 (Th2)-cytokine responses (PHA-Th2).

Measurements and main results: We identified six clusters of children based on their rhinovirus-16 responses, which were differentiated by the expression of four cytokine/chemokine groups: interferon-related (IFN), proinflammatory (Inflam), Th2-chemokine (Th2-chem), and regulatory (Reg). Clusters differed in their clinical characteristics. Children with an IFNmodInflamhighestTh2-chemhighestReghighest rhinovirus-16-induced pattern had a PHA-Th2low response, and a very low asthma risk (odds ratio [OR], 0.08; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.01-0.81; P = 0.03). Two clusters had a high risk of asthma and allergic sensitization, but with different trajectories from infancy to adolescence. The IFNlowestInflamhighTh2-chemlowRegmod cluster exhibited a PHA-Th2lowest response and was associated with early-onset asthma and sensitization, and the highest risk of asthma exacerbations (OR, 1.37; 95% CI, 1.07-1.76; P = 0.014) and lower respiratory tract infection hospitalizations (OR, 2.40; 95% CI, 1.26-4.58; P = 0.008) throughout childhood. In contrast, the IFNhighestInflammodTh2-chemmodReghigh cluster with a rhinovirus-16-cytokine pattern was characterized by a PHA-Th2highest response, and a low prevalence of asthma/sensitization in infancy that increased sharply to become the highest among all clusters by adolescence (but with a low risk of asthma exacerbations).

Conclusions: Early-onset troublesome asthma with early-life sensitization, later-onset milder allergic asthma, and disease protection are each associated with different patterns of rhinovirus-induced immune responses.

Keywords: asthma; cytokines; machine learning; rhinovirus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Antiviral Agents / immunology
  • Antiviral Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Asthma / drug therapy*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cytokines / immunology*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Picornaviridae Infections / drug therapy*
  • Picornaviridae Infections / immunology
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / drug therapy*
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / immunology
  • Rhinovirus / drug effects*
  • Rhinovirus / immunology*


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Cytokines