Virus-induced modulation of lower airway diseases: Pathogenesis and pharmacologic approaches to treatment

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Abstract

Uncomplicated upper respiratory viral infections are the most common cause of days lost from work and school and exert a major economic burden. In susceptible individuals, however, common respiratory viruses, particularly human rhinoviruses, also can have a major impact on diseases that involve the lower airways, including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD) and cystic fibrosis (CF). Respiratory virus-induced wheezing illnesses in early life are a significant risk factor for the subsequent development of asthma, and virus infections may also play a role in the development and progression of airway remodeling in asthma. It is clear that upper respiratory tract virus infections can spread to the lower airway and trigger acute attacks of asthma, COPD or CF. These exacerbations can be life-threatening, and exert an enormous burden on health care systems. In recent years we have gained new insights into the mechanisms by which respiratory viruses may induce acute exacerbations of lower airway diseases, as well as into host defense pathways that may regulate the outcomes to viral infections. In the current article we review the role of viruses in lower airway diseases, including our current understanding on pathways by which they may cause remodeling and trigger acute exacerbations. We also review the efficacy of current and emerging therapies used to treat these lower airway diseases on the outcomes due to viral infection, and discuss alternative therapeutic approaches for the management of virus-induced airway inflammation.

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