Human rhinovirus (HRV) infections cause 70% of virus‐related wheezing exacerbations and cold and flu‐like disease. They are associated with otitis media, sinusitis and pneumonia. Annually, the health and socioeconomic impact of HRV infections costs billions of dollars. Since 1987, 100 officially recognised HRV serotypes have resided in two genetically distinct species, HRV‐A and HRV‐B. Their genome sequences were deduced in 2009. Recently a new species, HRV‐C was recognised, containing 60 genotypes, of which only two have been isolated in primary tissue. Little is known about HRV‐Cs. The HRVs reside within the genus Enterovirus, family Picornaviridae. What drives the development and maintenance of so many distinct viruses is unknown. What role recombination plays in generating this diversity and whether there are species‐specific circulation patterns and clinical outcomes remains unclear. In short, much remains uncertain about the HRVs but the current key features and clinical outcomes from HRV infection are presented.

Key Concepts:

  • The nonenveloped HRVs have a small RNA genome of approximately 7000 base pairs.

  • A third, new species of HRV, HRV‐C was described in 2007; all species reside within the genus Enterovirus, family Picornaviridae.

  • HRV prevalence peaks twice per year.

  • HRVs cause cold and flu‐like symptoms and trigger asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease exacerbations.

  • HRVs are associated with diseases such as otitis media, sinusitis and pneumonia.

  • HRV infections are associated with considerable direct and indirect healthcare expenditure annually.

Keywords: rhinovirus; molecular detection; virology; HRV; respiratory infections; common cold; asthma; rhinovirus epidemiology

Figure 1.

Schematic representations of an HRV genome and its components. The genome structure is illustrated to identify the polyprotein and the subsequent precursory (P1‐3) and matured proteins (named in filled boxes below the genome). The structural and nonstructural regions encompass 11 proteins. The regions commonly used for taxonomic placement are underlined by dashed bars. Each linear RNA genome of a rhinovirus contains approximately 7200 nucleotides. The RNA is polyadenylated at the 3′‐terminus and covalently bound to a small protein at the 5′‐terminus known as the (VPg, encoded by 3B), which has a role in the initiation of RNA synthesis (Rueckert, ). The 5′UTR contains important secondary structures termed internal ribosome entry sites. Another secondary structure, the cis‐acting replication element (stem loop structure) is found in an HRV species‐specific location (labelled with A, B, C for the HRV species or human enterovirus).

Figure 2.

Comparison of predicted protomers. (a) A simplified depiction of two facing protomers on a viral capsid (shaded areas). As a guide for visualising loop length, a dashed and a dotted line are spaced equidistantly and represent proximal and distal positions from the virion core, respectively. (b) Ribbon depiction of two opposing viral protomers from HRV‐C3, HRV‐2 (minor group) and HRV‐14 (major group). HRV‐C3 (f.QPM) proteins were predicted by in silico matching to the empirically derived HRV‐16 and HRV‐14 structure. Protomers consist of one copy each of VP1, VP2, VP3 and VP4. β‐sheets are depicted as flat arrows and α‐helices as coiled ribbons. The formation of VP1‐VP3 into eight antiparallel β‐sheets is indicative of the ‘jellyroll’ conformation typical in picornaviruses. Major differences in the predicted HRV‐C3 VP1 include the shortened external loops between β‐sheets (*) and an additional C‐terminal sheet–loop–sheet formation (arrow indicates the same location on all protomers for comparison). Adapted from McErlean et al. , with permission from Public Library of Science.

Figure 3.

Schematic diagram of cytoplasmic HRV attachment, uncoating, genome replication, translation, assembly and release. Genome replication occurs in association with membranes (not shown). Mature virions are released by cell lysis.

Figure 4.

A schematic representation of the human respiratory tract. The (URT/LRT) and the components of the ear are indicated as are anatomical sites of interest. Beside the schematic are the approximate locations of URT and LRT diseases associated with infection by respiratory viruses. *Recurrent attacks of shortness of breath and wheezing due to spasmodic contraction of the bronchi attributed to infection. Adapted from Mackay et al. , with permission from Caster Academic Press.



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Arden, Katherine E, and Mackay, Ian M(Aug 2011) Rhinoviruses. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0000431.pub3]