Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is often the first clinically relevant pathogen encountered in life, with nearly all children infected by two years of age. Many studies have also linked early-life severe respiratory viral infection with more pathogenic immune responses later in life that lead to pulmonary diseases like childhood asthma. This phenomenon is thought to occur through long-term immune system alterations following early-life respiratory viral infection and may include local responses such as unresolved inflammation and/or direct structural or developmental modifications within the lung. Furthermore, systemic responses that could impact the bone marrow progenitors may be a significant cause of long-term alterations, through inflammatory mediators and shifts in metabolic profiles. Among these alterations may be changes in transcriptional and epigenetic programs that drive persistent modifications throughout life, leaving the immune system poised toward pathogenic responses upon secondary insult. This review will focus on early-life severe RSV infection and long-term alterations. Understanding these mechanisms will not only lead to better treatment options to limit initial RSV infection severity but also protect against the development of childhood asthma linked to severe respiratory viral infections.
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