Rodents are carriers of hantavirus, but do not develop disease from the infection. However, humans can contract a respiratory disease from the virus by breathing in dust particles contaminated by rodent fecal or urine material. The illness in humans can be mild to severe and sometimes ends in death. Hantaviruses infect the vascular endothelium of humans and do not directly cause cell damage. Compromised permeability of the endothelium due to hantavirus infection is is thought to be associated with an exaggerated immune response leading to dysregulation of endothelial permeability.
T cells in the respiratory tract of patients infected with hantavirus contribute to the severity of the disease. Therefore, dendritic cells may be important mediators of the disease by local enlistment and activation of T cells. A group of scientists investigated the role of two types of mononuclear phagocytes (monocytes and dendritic cells) in the human respiratory tract. They obtained blood, bronchoalveolar lavage, and bronchial biopsy samples from uninfected patient controls and patients infected with puumala virus (a species of hantavirus) at different points of the disease process.
Analysis using flow cytometry showed that the bronchoalveolar lavage of patients with puumala virus had higher numbers of cytotoxic T cells compared to uninfected controls. Immunohistochemistry analysis of the bronchial biopsy tissues also showed more cytotoxic T cell levels in patients with puumala virus when compared to controls. Furthermore, bronchial tissues from patients infected with puumala had more monocytes and dendritic cells than those from controls. During the acute phase of the disease, the increase in monocytes and dendritic cells coincided with the presence of the cytotoxic T cells.
Blood analysis from infected patients showed a drastic decrease in dendritic cells during the acute phase of the disease compared to blood from controls. However, the dendritic cell numbers normalized during the disease recovery stage. Taken together, there was significant depletion of monocytes and dendritic cells from the blood during the acute phase of puumala-induced disease. The infiltration of the respiratory tissue by these cells may have promoted the increased cytotoxic T cell numbers in the tissue, and contributed to tissue destruction through inflammation. This information may be harnessed to develop immunotherapies to treat hantavirus-induced diseases.
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Scholz, S., Baharom, F., Rankin, G., Maleki, K., Gupta, S., & Vangeti, S. et al. (2017). Human hantavirus infection elicits pronounced redistribution of mononuclear phagocytes in peripheral blood and airways. PLOS Pathogens, 13(6), e1006462. doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1006462