RSV is a major respiratory pathogen in infants, with preterm and young infants being at increased risk of severe disease. Airway epithelial cell (AEC) innate immune responses represent an important first line of defence. Development of these responses in early life is poorly understood.


Well differentiated cultures were generated using nasal AECs harvested from term and preterm infants at birth and from the same infants at one-year old. Cultures were infected with RSV and resulting cytopathology and innate immune responses studied.


RSV growth kinetics were similar between preterm and term newborn cohorts at birth and in the one-year-old repeat cohort. Secretion of interferon lambda-1 (IFN-l1), CXCL10 (IP-10), CCL5 (RANTES) and CXCL8 (IL-8) were similar between RSV-infected preterm and term newborn AECs. Following RSV infection, significantly higher secretion of IFN-l1 (P=0.0034), CXCL10 (P<0.05) and CCL5 (P<0.05) was noted in one-year-derived AECs compared to newborn AECs. We also identified differential expression of a novel endogenously expressed anti-RSV protein, pleiotrophin (PTN), which interacts with nucleolin, a cofactor for RSV entry. PTN expression/secretion was significantly decreased in preterm versus term AECs (P=0.014) and in newborn compared to one-year WD-PNECs (P=0.0008).


These exciting findings represent the first description of age- and prematurity-related differences in AEC innate immune responses, demonstrating greater RSV-induced expression of pro-inflammatory chemokines with increasing age and developmental differences in expression of the novel anti-RSV protein PTN. These findings may, in part, explain the increased susceptibility of preterm and very young infants to severe RSV disease.


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