APS - American Physiological Society

04/18/2024 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 04/18/2024 05:10

Contracting RSV Before Age 2 Can Cause Long-term Lung Changes and Impairment

Rockville, Md. (April 18, 2024)-Infants and children who have severe cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) before age 2 are likely to have changes to their lung structure and function that could affect respiratory health later in life. The study is published ahead of print in the American Journal of Physiology-Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology and has beenchosen as an APSselectarticle for April.

Most children contract RSV, a lower respiratory tract disease, before they are 2 years old. Mild forms of the disease mimic the common cold with symptoms such as coughing, runny nose, congestion and sneezing. Severe forms of RSV can include wheezing, trouble breathing and, when oxygen levels are compromised, a blue tinge to the skin. A severe infection can affect a child's future health as well. "[S]evere early-life RSV infection is associated with childhood wheezing related to respiratory viral infection exacerbation, allergies and asthma, that is accompanied by compromised lung function," the researchers wrote.

To study severe RSV, the researchers measured lung function and alveolarization in infant mice. Alveolarization is the development of alveoli, the sacs in the lungs responsible for exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide. "Alveolarization continues into adulthood with maximum alveolarization occurring between [2 and 3 years old] in humans," the team wrote. Production of large numbers of immune cells occurs around the same time.

The researchers measured these markers at five weeks and three months after the initial RSV infection and again after a reinfection with the virus. They found "significant defects" in the ability of the lungs to stretch and expand during breathing. Structural changes to the mice's lungs included an increase in alveoli size but fewer individual alveoli after RSV infection.

"These data indicate that the lungs of mice following an early-life RSV infection have a decreased lung function even at [three months] postinfection," the research team wrote. "Importantly, the structural defects of the early-life infected mice largely mimic the clinical setting where severe exacerbations are observed in children for several years following a severe early-life respiratory infection, especially RSV."

Read the full article, "Early-life pulmonary viral infection leads to long-term functional and lower airway structural changes in the lungs." It is highlighted as one of this month's "best of the best" as part of the American Physiological Society's APSselect program. Read this month's selected research articles.

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: To schedule an interview with a member of the research team, please contact APS Media Relations or call 301.634.7314. Find more research highlights in our Newsroom.

Physiology is a broad area of scientific inquiry that focuses on how molecules, cells, tissues and organs function in health and disease. The American Physiological Society connects a global, multidisciplinary community of more than 10,000 biomedical scientists and educators as part of its mission to advance scientific discovery, understand life and improve health. The Society drives collaboration and spotlights scientific discoveries through its 16 scholarly journals and programming that support researchers and educators in their work.