Airways tissue expression of type I interferons and their stimulated genes is higher in children than adults

Narjes Saheb Sharif-Askari, Fatemeh Saheb Sharif-Askari, Shirin Hafezi, Zaina Kalaji, Mohamed Temsah, Saleh Almuhsen, Habiba S. Alsafar, Qutayba Hamid, Rabih Halwani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


There is emerging evidence that age-dependent differences in susceptibility to severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) correlate with stronger innate immune response in the upper respiratory tract in children compared to adults. The efficient induction of interferon (IFN) alpha and beta (α and β) signaling, and interferon-stimulated genes (ISGs) is fundamental to the host antiviral response. In-silico transcriptomic analyses was conducted to determine the expression levels of IFN α/β pathway genes as well as 524 human ISGs in upper and lower airways of children and adults at baseline and post respiratory infections including coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). To validate our in-silico analysis, we conducted qRT-PCR to measure ISGs levels in children and adult's nasal epithelial samples. At baseline, children had significantly higher levels of IFN α/β and ISGs genes compared to adults. More distinction was also seen in bronchial compared to nasal basal levels. Children nasal epithelial cells exhibited superior antiviral IFN α/β and associated ISGs response following ex-vivo poly (I:C) treatment model, and in clinical samples of SARS-CoV-2 infected patients. This was also confirmed in nasal epithelial samples using qRT-PCR validation. No gender-based difference in type I IFN levels across both age groups were observed. Understanding the biological basis for children resistance against severe COVID-19 is a challenge that has substantial clinical importance. More mechanistic studies are needed to carefully quantify how much of early IFN levels is needed to bypass the viral evasion mechanism and prevent its further replication and dissemination to lower airways and the rest of the body.

Original languageBritish English
Article numbere11724
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2022


  • Adults
  • Children
  • COVID-19
  • IFN alpha
  • IFN beta
  • Interferon-stimulated genes (ISGs)
  • Poly(I:C)
  • RSV
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Type I interferon


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