The innate immune response is critical for host defence against respiratory coronaviruses (CoVs). This study demonstrated that an ongoing respiratory virus infection compromises innate immune responses and affects the pathogenesis of a respiratory CoV co-infection. An innate immunosuppressive respiratory virus infection was established by infecting weaned pigs with porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV); 10 days later, the pigs were exposed to porcine respiratory coronavirus (PRCV). The PRRSV/PRCV dual-infected pigs had reduced weight gains, a higher incidence of fever and more severe pneumonia compared with either single infection. Significant suppression of innate immune responses [reduced alpha interferon (IFN-α) levels in the lungs and reduced blood natural killer cell cytotoxicity] by the ongoing PRRSV infection was observed in dual-infected pigs, which coincided with exacerbated pneumonia during early PRCV infection. The subsequent PRCV infection led to enhanced PRRSV replication in the lungs and a trend towards increased serum T-helper type 1 (Th1) (IFN-γ) but decreased Th2 [interleukin (IL)-4] responses, further exacerbating PRRSV pneumonia. Following PRCV infection, more severe PRRSV-related pulmonary alveolar macrophage (PAM) apoptosis occurred, as determined by an in situ terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated dUTP nick end labelling assay, suggesting increased PRRSV replication in PAMs. Collectively, these observations suggest interactive effects between PRCV and PRRSV via early innate (IFN-α) and later adaptive Th1 (IFN-γ) and Th2 (IL-4) immune responses. These findings imply that an existing immunomodulating respiratory viral co-infection may be a contributing factor to more severe pneumonia in respiratory CoV disease. This study provides new insights into host-pathogen interactions related to co-infection by CoVs and other respiratory viruses.
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