INRS-Institut Armand-Frappier, laboratoire de neuroimmunovirologie, 531, boulevard des Prairies, H7V 1B7 Laval (Québec), Canada
In humans, viral infections of the respiratory tract are a leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Among the various respiratory viruses, coronaviruses are important ubiquitous pathogens of humans and animals. Since the late 1960's, human coronaviruses (HCoV) are recognized pathogens of the upper respiratory tract, being mainly associated with mild pathologies such as the common cold. However, in vulnerable populations, (newborns, infants, the elderly and immune-compromised individuals), they can affect the lower respiratory tract, leading to pneumonia, exacerbations of asthma, respiratory distress syndrome or even severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). For almost three decades now, the scientific literature has also demonstrated that HCoV are neuroinvasive and neurotropic: neurons are often the target cell in the central nervous system (CNS), inducing neurodegeneration and eventually death. Moreover, HCoV can contribute to an overactivation of the immune system that could lead to autoimmunity in the CNS of susceptible individuals. Given all these properties, it has been suggested that HCoV could be associated with the triggering or the exacerbation of human neurological diseases for which the etiology remains unknown or poorly understood.