Human rhinoviruses (HRVs) are well-recognised causes of common colds and associated upper respiratory tract complications such as sinusitis and otitis media. This article reviews information linking HRV infection to illness in the lower respiratory tract. HRVs are capable of efficient replication in vitro at temperatures present in the tracheobronchial tree and have been shown to cause productive infection, elaboration of cytokines and chemokines, and up-regulation of cell surface markers in human bronchial epithelial cells. In situ hybridisation studies have proven that HRV infection occurs in the tracheobronchial tree following experimental infection. Clinical studies report that HRV infection is the second most frequently recognised agent associated with pneumonia and bronchiolitis in infants and young children and commonly causes exacerbations of pre-existing airways disease in those with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or cystic fibrosis. HRV infection is associated with one-third to one-half of asthma exacerbations depending on age and is linked to asthma hospitalisations in both adults and children. Limited information implicates HRV infection as a cause of severe lower respiratory tract illness in older adults and in highly immunocompromised hosts, particularly bone marrow transplant recipients. More information is needed about the pathogenesis of HRV infection with regard to lower respiratory tract complications in these diverse patient groups. Given the large unmet medical need associated with HRV infections, safe and effective antiviral agents are needed for both prevention and treatment of these infections. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.