Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) is an acute disease resulting from infection with any one of a number of New World hantaviruses. HPS has a mortality rate of 40% and, unlike many other severe respiratory diseases, often occurs in young, healthy adults. Infection is usually initiated after inhalation of rodent excreta containing virus particles, but human-to-human transmission has been documented. Postmortem tissue samples show high levels of viral antigen within the respiratory endothelium, but it is not clear how the virus can traverse the respiratory epithelium in order to initiate infection in the microvasculature. We have utilized Andes virus infection of primary, differentiated airway epithelial cells to investigate the ability of the virus to interact with and cross the respiratory epithelium. Andes virus infects the Clara and goblet cell populations but not the ciliated cells, and this infection pattern corresponds to the expression of β3 integrin, the viral receptor. The virus can infect via the apical or basolateral membrane, and progeny virus particles are secreted bidirectionally. There is no obvious cytopathology associated with infection, and 3 integrins do not appear to be critical for respiratory epithelial cell monolayer integrity. Our data suggest that hantavirus infection of the respiratory epithelium may play an important role in the early or prodrome phase of disease as well as serving as a source of virus involved in transmission.
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