MERS-CoV infection in humans is associated with a pro-inflammatory Th1 and Th17 cytokine profile

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The Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) has been recognized as a highly pathogenic virus to humans that infects the respiratory tract and is associated with high morbidity and mortality. Studies in animal models suggest that MERS-CoV infection induces a strong inflammatory response, which may be related to the severity of disease. Data showing the cytokine profiles in humans during the acute phase of MERS-CoV infection are limited. In this study, we have analyzed the profile of cytokine responses in plasma samples from patients with confirmed MERS-CoV infections (n=7) compared to healthy controls (n=13). The cytokine profiles, including T helper (Th) 1, Th2 and Th17 responses, were analyzed using cytometric bead array (CBA). A prominent pro-inflammatory Th1 and Th17 response was clearly seen in patients with MERS-CoV infection, with markedly increased concentrations of IFN-γ, TNF-α, IL-15 and IL-17 compared to controls. IL-12 expression levels showed no difference between patients with MERS-CoV infection and the healthy controls despite the significantly increased levels of IFN-α2 and IFN-γ (P<.01). No changes were observed in the levels of IL-2, IL-4, IL-5, IL-13, and TGF-α (P>.05). Our results demonstrate a marked pro-inflammatory cytokine response during the acute phase of MERS-CoV infection in humans.

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