Preprint Hypothesis Version 1 Preserved in Portico This version is not peer-reviewed

Temperature Dependent Viral Tropism: An Explanation of the Seasonality and Pathogenicity of the Endemic Respiratory Viruses

Version 1 : Received: 17 January 2021 / Approved: 19 January 2021 / Online: 19 January 2021 (16:42:56 CET)

How to cite: Shaw Stewart, P.D. Temperature Dependent Viral Tropism: An Explanation of the Seasonality and Pathogenicity of the Endemic Respiratory Viruses. Preprints 2021, 2021010389 (doi: 10.20944/preprints202101.0389.v1). Shaw Stewart, P.D. Temperature Dependent Viral Tropism: An Explanation of the Seasonality and Pathogenicity of the Endemic Respiratory Viruses. Preprints 2021, 2021010389 (doi: 10.20944/preprints202101.0389.v1).

Abstract

This review seeks to explain four features of viral respiratory illnesses that have perplexed many generations of microbiologists: (1) the seasonal occurrence of viral respiratory illness; (2) the occurrence of respiratory illness year-round in the Tropics; (3) the rapid response of illness to temperature drops in temperate regions; (4) the explosive arrival and rapid termination of epidemics caused by influenza and other respiratory viruses. I discuss the inadequacy of the popular explanations of seasonality, and propose a simple hypothesis, called Temperature Dependent Viral Tropism (TD-VT), that is compatible with the above and other features of respiratory illness. TD-VT notes that viruses can often transmit themselves more effectively if they moderate their pathogenicity (thereby maintaining the mobility of their hosts) and suggests that most endemic respiratory viruses accomplish this by developing thermal sensitivity, in the sense that they normally replicate rapidly only at temperatures below normal body temperature. This allows them to confine themselves to the upper respiratory tract and to avoid infecting the lungs, heart, gut etc. I review biochemical and tissue-culture studies that found that “wild” respiratory viruses often show natural thermal sensitivity within a range that supports organ-specific tropism within the human body, and I discuss the evident tendency for viral strains to adapt their thermal sensitivity to their local climate and season. I also explore the possible misinterpretation of early experiments where volunteers were inoculated nasally with viral samples and then chilled. Next, I discuss the practical implications of the TD-VT hypothesis for preventing and treating respiratory illness. Finally, I note that the hypothesis is very testable and make suggestions for the most important experiments to increase our understanding of the seasonality and pathogenicity of viral respiratory illness.

Keywords

respiratory illness; pathogenicity; virulence; natural selection; colds; influenza; rhinovirus; weather; climate; Tropics; summer; winter

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