THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 2016

Scientists identify genetic signature for RSV

Scientists identified the genetic signature of respiratory syncytial virus, which could aid in the development of RSV diagnostics and a vaccine, according to a recently published study in PLOS Medicine.

The researchers from The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital compared the RNA profiles from 220 children under the age of two who were either healthy or hospitalized with RSV or other respiratory viruses. The scientists found that patients with RSV had RNA profiles with activated genes involved in the function of neutrophils and interferon, key components of the innate immune system. The RSV patients experienced gene suppression for genes regulating T and B cells in the adaptive immune system.

Using an algorithm, the researchers were able to determine certain RNA profiles, or biosignatures, that were linked to different levels of disease severity.

"We showed that screening RNA profiles is a useful tool from the diagnostic point of view, as it allowed differentiation from influenza and rhinovirus infections with great accuracy," Asuncion Mejias, MD, a co-lead author of the study, said. "It also helps us better understand the pathogenesis of this infection and, more important, to objectively assess disease severity in these patients."

Tools designed to determine disease severity in emergency rooms and pediatricians' offices are currently under development.

"These novel and affordable tools will have a much faster turn-around time that could facilitate the application of RNA profiles in 'real time' in the clinical setting," Mejias said. "It may help triage patients when they first present to the emergency room or pediatric office, but it could also be useful for monitoring clinical changes during the course of the disease, with the ultimate goal of predicting clinical outcomes."

According to the World Health Organization, as many as 64 million children worldwide are infected with RSV at any given time. RSV causes more than 144,000 infant and children hospitalizations annually in the U.S. alone.

The researchers said RSV remains largely unknown to the general public, despite the fact that it leads to one-quarter of all pneumonia hospitalizations and 70 percent of bronchiolitis hospitalizations in young children.

"We need to do a better job educating our patients and their families about RSV and the huge morbidity associated with these infections," Octavio Ramilo, a co-lead author of the study, said.