Date: 12 Mar 2014

Neuroinvasive and Neurotropic Human Respiratory Coronaviruses: Potential Neurovirulent Agents in Humans

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Abstract

In humans, viral infections of the respiratory tract are a leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Several recognized respiratory viral agents have a neuroinvasive capacity since they can spread from the respiratory tract to the central nervous system (CNS). Once there, infection of CNS cells (neurotropism) could lead to human health problems, such as encephalitis and long-term neurological diseases. Among the various respiratory viruses, coronaviruses are important pathogens of humans and animals. Human Coronaviruses (HCoV) usually infect the upper respiratory tract, where they are mainly associated with common colds. However, in more vulnerable populations, such as newborns, infants, the elderly, and immune-compromised individuals, they can also affect the lower respiratory tract, leading to pneumonia, exacerbations of asthma, respiratory distress syndrome, or even severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The respiratory involvement of HCoV has been clearly established since the 1960s. In addition, for almost three decades now, the scientific literature has also demonstrated that HCoV are neuroinvasive and neurotropic and could induce an overactivation of the immune system, in part by participating in the activation of autoreactive immune cells that could be associated with autoimmunity in susceptible individuals. Furthermore, it was shown that in the murine CNS, neurons are the main target of infection, which causes these essential cells to undergo degeneration and eventually die by some form of programmed cell death after virus infection. Moreover, it appears that the viral surface glycoprotein (S) represents an important factor in the neurodegenerative process. Given all these properties, it has been suggested that these recognized human respiratory pathogens could be associated with the triggering or the exacerbation of neurological diseases for which the etiology remains unknown or poorly understood.