Decoding susceptibility to respiratory viral infections and asthma inception in children

James F. Read, Anthony Bosco

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

10 Citations (Web of Science)


Human Respiratory Syncytial Virus and Human Rhinovirus are the most frequent cause of respiratory tract infections in infants and children and are major triggers of acute viral bronchiolitis, wheezing and asthma exacerbations. Here, we will discuss the application of the powerful tools of systems biology to decode the molecular mechanisms that determine risk for infection and subsequent asthma. An important conceptual advance is the understanding that the innate immune system is governed by a Bow-tie architecture, where diverse input signals converge onto a few core pathways (e.g., IRF7), which in turn generate diverse outputs that orchestrate effector and regulatory functions. Molecular profiling studies in children with severe exacerbations of asthma/wheeze have identified two major immunological phenotypes. The IRF7hi phenotype is characterised by robust upregulation of antiviral response networks, and the IRF7lo phenotype is characterised by upregulation of markers of TGFβ signalling and type 2 inflammation. Similar phenotypes have been identified in infants and children with severe viral bronchiolitis. Notably, genome-wide association studies supported by experimental validation have identified key pathways that increase susceptibility to HRV infection (ORMDL3 and CHDR3) and modulate TGFβ signalling (GSDMB, TGFBR1, and SMAD3). Moreover, functional deficiencies in the activation of type I and III interferon responses are already evident at birth in children at risk of developing febrile lower respiratory tract infections and persistent asthma/wheeze, suggesting that the trajectory to asthma begins at birth or in utero. Finally, exposure to microbes and their products reprograms innate immunity and provides protection from the development of allergies and asthma in children, and therefore microbial products are logical candidates for the primary prevention of asthma.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6372
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
Issue number17
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2020


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