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Vet Microbiol. 2000 May 22;74(1-2):109-16.

Cytokines in the pathogenesis of influenza.

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Laboratory of Virology, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Ghent University, Salisburylaan 133, 9820, Merelbeke, Belgium.


Uncomplicated influenza in humans, horses or swine is characterized by massive virus replication in respiratory epithelial cells, inflammation and an abrupt onset of general and respiratory disease. There is now growing evidence that the so-called early cytokines produced at the site of infection mediate many of the clinical and pathological manifestations. Among these cytokines are interferon-alpha (IFN-alpha), tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), interleukin-1 (IL-1) alpha and beta, interleukin-6 (IL-6), interleukin-8 (IL-8) and monocyte-attracting chemokines. This paper reviews: (1) in vivo examinations of the cytokine profiles during influenza in mice, humans or swine; (2) in vivo data on the probable role of these cytokines; and (3) selected in vitro data on cytokine induction by the influenza virus. Examination of respiratory secretions of experimentally infected humans or animals revealed a brisk and concurrent rise in several of the cytokines mentioned. Moreover, peak cytokine levels directly correlated with virus replication and disease. In the mouse model, specific anti-cytokine strategies have further confirmed the role of cytokines in body temperature changes, anorexia and lung inflammation. However, cytokines were clearly not the only factor contributing to disease, and they seemed to be essential for resolution of the infection. Though influenza virus was shown to induce cytokines in cell culture, in vitro experiments have also revealed conflicting data. Furthermore, the viral genes or products that are responsible for cytokine induction are unknown. Exactly this information would make important contributions to our understanding of the genetic basis of viral virulence.

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