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J Virol. 2012 Dec;86(24):13187-201. doi: 10.1128/JVI.01456-12. Epub 2012 Oct 10.

Differential pathological and immune responses in newly weaned ferrets are associated with a mild clinical outcome of pandemic 2009 H1N1 infection.

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Division of Experimental Therapeutics, Toronto General Research Institute, University Health Network, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


Young children are typically considered a high-risk group for disease associated with influenza virus infection. Interestingly, recent clinical reports suggested that young children were the smallest group of cases with severe pandemic 2009 H1N1 (H1N1pdm) influenza virus infection. Here we established a newly weaned ferret model for the investigation of H1N1pdm infection in young age groups compared to adults. We found that young ferrets had a significantly milder fever and less weight loss than adult ferrets, which paralleled the mild clinical symptoms in the younger humans. Although there was no significant difference in viral clearance, disease severity was associated with pulmonary pathology, where newly weaned ferrets had an earlier pathology improvement. We examined the immune responses associated with protection of the young age group during H1N1pdm infection. We found that interferon and regulatory interleukin-10 responses were more robust in the lungs of young ferrets. In contrast, myeloperoxidase and major histocompatibility complex responses were persistently higher in the adult lungs; as well, the numbers of inflammation-prone granulocytes were highly elevated in the adult peripheral blood. Importantly, we observed that H1N1pdm infection triggered formation of lung structures that resembled inducible bronchus-associated lymphoid tissues (iBALTs) in young ferrets which were associated with high levels of homeostatic chemokines CCL19 and CXCL13, but these were not seen in the adult ferrets with severe disease. These results may be extrapolated to a model of the mild disease seen in human children. Furthermore, these mechanistic analyses provide significant new insight into the developing immune system and effective strategies for intervention and vaccination against respiratory viruses.

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