The severity of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections appears to differ with age in both humans and bovines. A primary RSV infection in naïve infants and in young calves runs a more severe course when they are 1–6 months old than in their first month of life. The relative lack of clinical signs in the first month of age may be due to high levels of maternally derived neutralizing antibodies or low exposure to infectious virus. This study examined whether age-dependent differences in the pathogenesis of bovine RSV (bRSV) between neonatal and young calves may be due to differences in age-dependent immunocompetence. To study the effect of age and immune parameters on bRSV disease in neonatal and young calves, neonatal (1-day-old) calves without maternally derived antibodies were infected experimentally with bRSV and the severity of disease and immune responses were evaluated in comparison with disease in similar 6-week-old infected calves. Neonatal calves had more extensive virus replication and lung consolidation, but lower pro-inflammatory [in particular tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF-)] responses, specific humoral immune responses, lung neutrophilic infiltration and clinical signs of disease than 6-week-old calves. The lack of correlation between virus replication and clinical signs suggests an important role of pro-inflammatory cytokines, in particular TNF-, in the disease. The capacity to produce pro-inflammatory TNF- appeared to increase with age, and may explain the age-dependent differences in RSV pathogenesis.


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