Respiratory syncytial virus infection activates IL-13–producing group 2 innate lymphoid cells through thymic stromal lymphopoietin

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Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a major health care burden with a particularly high worldwide morbidity and mortality rate among infants. Data suggest that severe RSV-associated illness is in part caused by immunopathology associated with a robust type 2 response.


We sought to determine the capacity of RSV infection to stimulate group 2 innate lymphoid cells (ILC2s) and the associated mechanism in a murine model.


Wild-type (WT) BALB/c, thymic stromal lymphopoietin receptor (TSLPR) knockout (KO), or WT mice receiving an anti-TSLP neutralizing antibody were infected with the RSV strain 01/2-20. During the first 4 to 6 days of infection, lungs were collected for evaluation of viral load, protein concentration, airway mucus, airway reactivity, or ILC2 numbers. Results were confirmed with 2 additional RSV clinical isolates, 12/11-19 and 12/12-6, with known human pathogenic potential.


RSV induced a 3-fold increase in the number of IL-13–producing ILC2s at day 4 after infection, with a concurrent increase in total lung IL-13 levels. Both thymic stromal lymphopoietin (TSLP) and IL-33 levels were increased 12 hours after infection. TSLPR KO mice did not mount an IL-13–producing ILC2 response to RSV infection. Additionally, neutralization of TSLP significantly attenuated the RSV-induced IL-13–producing ILC2 response. TSLPR KO mice displayed reduced lung IL-13 protein levels, decreased airway mucus and reactivity, attenuated weight loss, and similar viral loads as WT mice. Both 12/11-19 and 12/12-6 similarly induced IL-13–producing ILC2s through a TSLP-dependent mechanism.


These data demonstrate that multiple pathogenic strains of RSV induce IL-13–producing ILC2 proliferation and activation through a TSLP-dependent mechanism in a murine model and suggest the potential therapeutic targeting of TSLP during severe RSV infection.

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