BackgroundHundreds of plant species release their pollen into the air every year during early spring. During that period, pollen allergic as well as non-allergic patients frequently present to doctors with severe respiratory tract infections. Our objective was therefore to assess whether pollen may interfere with antiviral immunity.MethodsWe combined data from real-life human exposure cohorts, a mouse model and human cell culture to test our hypothesis.ResultsPollen significantly diminished interferon-lambda and pro-inflammatory chemokine responses of airway epithelia to rhinovirus and viral mimics and decreased nuclear translocation of interferon regulatory factors. In mice infected with respiratory syncytial virus, co-exposure to pollen caused attenuated antiviral gene expression and increased pulmonary viral titers. In non-allergic human volunteers, nasal symptoms were positively correlated with airborne birch pollen abundance, and nasal birch pollen challenge led to downregulation of type I and -III interferons in nasal mucosa. In a large patient cohort, numbers of rhinoviruspositive cases were correlated with airborne birch pollen concentrations.ConclusionThe ability of pollen to suppress innate antiviral immunity, independent of allergy, suggests that high-risk population groups should avoid extensive outdoor activities when pollen and respiratory virus seasons coincide.