Severe asthma and viral-induced asthma exacerbations represent a high unmet medical need as no therapy is currently available for these patients. HRV (human rhinovirus) is prominently associated with asthma exacerbations in humans. The aim of the present study was to establish a mouse model of severe asthma with additional rhinovirus infection to investigate the interplay between chronic allergic airway inflammation and acute respiratory viral infection. Balb/c mice were sensitized with HDM (house dust mite) extract (25 μg in 50 μl of saline) by i.n. (intranasal) delivery to the lung over 7 weeks. HRV1B (HRV serotype 1B) inoculation was performed i.n. on the last 3 days. Therapeutic treatment with FP (fluticasone propionate) was performed to assess steroid efficacy. Lung resistance was measured invasively to assess AHR (airway hyper-responsiveness). BAL (bronchoalveolar lavage) differential cell count, cytokines, lung histology and the proliferative and cytokine response of MLN (mediastinal lymph node) cells upon in vitro restimulation were analysed. Chronic HDM application induced a strong Th2-skewed eosinophilic airway inflammation and AHR, which was not exacerbated by superimposed HRV1B infection. Therapeutic steroid intervention in the chronic HDM model reduced BAL eosinophil cell counts, cytokine levels and AHR, while neutrophil numbers were unaffected. Steroid efficacy against inflammatory readouts was maintained during additional HRV1B infection. Animals with chronic allergic airway inflammation exhibited a diminished immune response towards superimposed HRV1B infection compared with HRV1B alone, as induction of the anti-viral and pro-inflammatory cytokines IFN (interferon)-α, IFN-γ and IL (interleukin)-12 were suppressed. Although superimposed HRV1B infection did not provoke asthma exacerbation in this severe model, a deficient anti-viral immune response to HRV1B was present under chronic allergic airway inflammatory conditions. Thus, this model is able to reflect some aspects of the complex interplay of respiratory virus infection in chronic allergic asthma.

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