Respiratory Syncytial Virus Protects Bystander Cells against Influenza A Virus Infection by Triggering Secretion of Type I and Type III Interferons
We observed the interference between two prevalent respiratory viruses, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza A virus (IAV) (H1N1), and characterized its molecular underpinnings in alveolar epithelial cells (A549). We found that RSV induces higher levels of interferon beta (IFN-β) production than IAV and that IFN-β priming confers higher-level protection against infection with IAV than with RSV. Consequently, we focused on the sequential infection scheme of RSV and then IAV. Using A549 wild-type (WT), IFNAR1 knockout (KO), IFNLR1 KO, and IFNAR1-IFNLR1 double-KO cell lines, we found that both IFN-β and IFN-λ are necessary for maximum protection against subsequent infection. Immunostaining revealed that preinfection with RSV partitions the cell population into a subpopulation susceptible to subsequent infection with IAV and an IAV-proof subpopulation. Strikingly, the susceptible cells turned out to be those already compromised and efficiently expressing RSV, whereas the bystander, interferon-primed cells are resistant to IAV infection. Thus, virus-virus exclusion at the cell population level is not realized through direct competition for a shared ecological niche (single cell) but rather is achieved with the involvement of specific cytokines induced by the host's innate immune response. IMPORTANCE Influenza A virus (IAV) and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are common recurrent respiratory infectants that show a relatively high coincidence. We demonstrated that preinfection with RSV partitions the cell population into a subpopulation susceptible to subsequent infection with IAV and an IAV-proof subpopulation. The susceptible cells are those already compromised and efficiently expressing RSV, whereas the bystander cells are resistant to IAV infection. The cross-protective effect critically depends on IFN-β and IFN-λ signaling and thus ensues when the proportion of cells preinfected with RSV is relatively low yet sufficient to trigger a pervasive antiviral state in bystander cells. Our study suggests that mild, but not severe, respiratory infections may have a short-lasting protective role against more dangerous respiratory viruses, including severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).
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