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Sep 04, 2015
Human respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a major cause of severe respiratory illness in children and susceptible adults. RSV blocks the development of the innate antiviral immune response and can grow to high titers in the respiratory tract. Here we demonstrate that immunostimulatory defective viral genomes (iDVGs) that are naturally generated during RSV replication are strong inducers of the innate antiviral response to RSV in mice and humans. In mice, RSV iDVGs stimulated the expression of antiviral genes, restricted viral replication, and prevented weight loss and lung inflammation. In human cells, the antiviral response to RSV iDVGs was dominated by the expression of IFN-λ1 over IFN-β and was driven by rapid intranuclear accumulation of the transcription factor IRF1. RSV iDVGs were detected in respiratory secretions of hospitalized patients, and their amount positively correlated with the level of expression of antiviral genes in the samples. Infection of explanted human lung tissue from different donors revealed that most humans can respond to RSV iDVGs and that the rate of accumulation of iDVGs during infection directly correlates with the quality of the antiviral response. Taken together, our data establish iDVGs as primary triggers of robust antiviral responses to RSV and provide the first evidence for an important biological role for naturally occurring iDVGs during a paramyxovirus infection in humans.