Megan V. C. Barnes, Peter J. M. Openshaw, Ryan S. Thwaites

Despite over half a century of research, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)-induced bronchiolitis remains a major cause of hospitalisation in infancy, while vaccines and specific therapies still await development. Our understanding of mucosal immune responses to RSV continues to evolve, but recent studies again highlight the role of Type-2 immune responses in RSV disease and hint at the possibility that it dampens Type-1 antiviral immunity. Other immunoregulatory pathways implicated in RSV disease highlight the importance of focusing on localised mucosal responses in the respiratory mucosa, as befits a virus that is essentially confined to the ciliated respiratory epithelium. In this review, we discuss studies of mucosal immune cell infiltration and production of inflammatory mediators in RSV bronchiolitis and relate these studies to observations from peripheral blood. We also discuss the advantages and limitations of studying the nasal mucosa in a disease that is most severe in the lower airway. A fresh focus on studies of RSV pathogenesis in the airway mucosa is set to revolutionise our understanding of this common and important infection.

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