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Propagation of Rhinovirus C in Differentiated Immortalized Human Airway HBEC3-KT Epithelial Cells

Rhinoviruses (RVs) are classified into three species: RV-A, B, and C. Unlike RV-A and -B, RV-C cannot be propagated using standard cell culture systems. In order to isolate RV-Cs from clinical specimens and gain a better understanding of their biological properties and pathogenesis, we established air⁻liquid-interface (ALI) culture methods using HBEC3-KT and HSAEC1-KT immortalized human airway epithelial cells. HBEC3- and HSAEC1-ALI cultures morphologically resembled pseudostratified epithelia with cilia and goblet cells. Two fully sequenced clinical RV-C isolates, RV-C9 and -C53, were propagated in HBEC3-ALI cultures, and increases in viral RNA ranging from 1.71 log10 to 7.06 log10 copies were observed. However, this propagation did not occur in HSAEC1-ALI cultures. Using the HBEC3-ALI culture system, 11 clinical strains of RV-C were isolated from 23 clinical specimens, and of them, nine were passaged and re-propagated. The 11 clinical isolates were classified as RV-C2, -C6, -C9, -C12, -C18, -C23, -C40, and -C53 types according to their VP1 sequences. Our stable HBEC3-ALI culture system is the first cultivable cell model that supports the growth of multiple RV-C virus types from clinical specimens. Thus, the HBEC3-ALI culture system provides a cheap and easy-to-use alternative to existing cell models for isolating and investigating RV-Cs.

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