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Concept: Coronavirus


A large number of SARS-related coronaviruses (SARSr-CoV) have been detected in horseshoe bats since 2005 in different areas of China. However, these bat SARSr-CoVs show sequence differences from SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV) in different genes (S, ORF8, ORF3, etc) and are considered unlikely to represent the direct progenitor of SARS-CoV. Herein, we report the findings of our 5-year surveillance of SARSr-CoVs in a cave inhabited by multiple species of horseshoe bats in Yunnan Province, China. The full-length genomes of 11 newly discovered SARSr-CoV strains, together with our previous findings, reveals that the SARSr-CoVs circulating in this single location are highly diverse in the S gene, ORF3 and ORF8. Importantly, strains with high genetic similarity to SARS-CoV in the hypervariable N-terminal domain (NTD) and receptor-binding domain (RBD) of the S1 gene, the ORF3 and ORF8 region, respectively, were all discovered in this cave. In addition, we report the first discovery of bat SARSr-CoVs highly similar to human SARS-CoV in ORF3b and in the split ORF8a and 8b. Moreover, SARSr-CoV strains from this cave were more closely related to SARS-CoV in the non-structural protein genes ORF1a and 1b compared with those detected elsewhere. Recombination analysis shows evidence of frequent recombination events within the S gene and around the ORF8 between these SARSr-CoVs. We hypothesize that the direct progenitor of SARS-CoV may have originated after sequential recombination events between the precursors of these SARSr-CoVs. Cell entry studies demonstrated that three newly identified SARSr-CoVs with different S protein sequences are all able to use human ACE2 as the receptor, further exhibiting the close relationship between strains in this cave and SARS-CoV. This work provides new insights into the origin and evolution of SARS-CoV and highlights the necessity of preparedness for future emergence of SARS-like diseases.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Genetics, Evolution, Severe acute respiratory syndrome, SARS coronavirus, Coronavirus


ABSTRACT The recent emergence of a novel human coronavirus (HCoV-EMC) in the Middle East raised considerable concerns, as it is associated with severe acute pneumonia, renal failure, and fatal outcome and thus resembles the clinical presentation of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) observed in 2002 and 2003. Like SARS-CoV, HCoV-EMC is of zoonotic origin and closely related to bat coronaviruses. The human airway epithelium (HAE) represents the entry point and primary target tissue for respiratory viruses and is highly relevant for assessing the zoonotic potential of emerging respiratory viruses, such as HCoV-EMC. Here, we show that pseudostratified HAE cultures derived from different donors are highly permissive to HCoV-EMC infection, and by using reverse transcription (RT)-PCR and RNAseq data, we experimentally determined the identity of seven HCoV-EMC subgenomic mRNAs. Although the HAE cells were readily responsive to type I and type III interferon (IFN), we observed neither a pronounced inflammatory cytokine nor any detectable IFN responses following HCoV-EMC, SARS-CoV, or HCoV-229E infection, suggesting that innate immune evasion mechanisms and putative IFN antagonists of HCoV-EMC are operational in the new host. Importantly, however, we demonstrate that both type I and type III IFN can efficiently reduce HCoV-EMC replication in HAE cultures, providing a possible treatment option in cases of suspected HCoV-EMC infection. IMPORTANCE A novel human coronavirus, HCoV-EMC, has recently been described to be associated with severe respiratory tract infection and fatalities, similar to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) observed during the 2002-2003 epidemic. Closely related coronaviruses replicate in bats, suggesting that, like SARS-CoV, HCoV-EMC is of zoonotic origin. Since the animal reservoir and circumstances of zoonotic transmission are yet elusive, it is critically important to assess potential species barriers of HCoV-EMC infection. An important first barrier against invading respiratory pathogens is the epithelium, representing the entry point and primary target tissue of respiratory viruses. We show that human bronchial epithelia are highly susceptible to HCoV-EMC infection. Furthermore, HCoV-EMC, like other coronaviruses, evades innate immune recognition, reflected by the lack of interferon and minimal inflammatory cytokine expression following infection. Importantly, type I and type III interferon treatment can efficiently reduce HCoV-EMC replication in the human airway epithelium, providing a possible avenue for treatment of emerging virus infections.

Concepts: Immune system, Cytokine, Virus, Interferon, Influenza, Severe acute respiratory syndrome, Respiratory epithelium, Coronavirus


ABSTRACT A new human coronavirus (hCoV-EMC) has emerged very recently in the Middle East. The clinical presentation resembled that of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) as encountered during the epidemic in 2002/2003. In both cases, acute renal failure was observed in humans. HCoV-EMC is a member of the same virus genus as SARS-CoV but constitutes a sister species. Here we investigated whether it might utilize angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), the SARS-CoV receptor. Knowledge of the receptor is highly critical because the restriction of the SARS receptor to deep compartments of the human respiratory tract limited the spread of SARS. In baby hamster kidney (BHK) cells, lentiviral transduction of human ACE2 (hACE2) conferred permissiveness and replication for SARS-CoV but not for hCoV-EMC. Monkey and human kidney cells (LLC-MK2, Vero, and 769-P) and swine kidney cells were permissive for both viruses, but only SARS-CoV infection could be blocked by anti-hACE2 antibody and could be neutralized by preincubation of virus with soluble ACE2. Our data show that ACE2 is neither necessary nor sufficient for hCoV-EMC replication. Moreover, hCoV-EMC, but not SARS-CoV, replicated in cell lines from Rousettus, Rhinolophus, Pipistrellus, Myotis, and Carollia bats, representing four major chiropteran families from both suborders. As human CoV normally cannot replicate in bat cells from different families, this suggests that hCoV-EMC might use a receptor molecule that is conserved in bats, pigs, and humans, implicating a low barrier against cross-host transmission. IMPORTANCE  A new human coronavirus (hCoV) emerged recently in the Middle East. The disease resembled SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), causing a fatal epidemic in 2002/2003. Coronaviruses have a reservoir in bats and because this novel virus is related to SARS-CoV, we investigated whether it might replicate in bat cells and use the same receptor (angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 [ACE2]). This knowledge is highly critical, because the SARS-CoV receptor influenced pathology, and its localization in the deep respiratory tract is thought to have restricted the transmissibility of SARS. Our data show that hCoV-EMC does not need the SARS-CoV receptor to infect human cells. Moreover, the virus is capable of infecting human, pig, and bat cells. This is remarkable, as human CoVs normally cannot replicate in bat cells as a consequence of host adaptation. Our results implicate that the new virus might use a receptor that is conserved between bats, pigs and humans suggesting a low barrier against cross-host transmission.

Concepts: Protein, Virus, Infection, Severe acute respiratory syndrome, Mammal, Primate, Bat, Coronavirus


The epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) had a significant effect on global society in the early 2000s and the potential of its resurgence exists. Studies on the modes of transmission of SARS are limited though a number of outbreak studies have revealed the possible airborne route. To develop more specific and effective control strategies, we conducted a detailed mechanism-based investigation that explored the role of fomite transmission in the well-known Ward 8A outbreak. We considered three hypothetical transmission routes, i.e., the long-range airborne, fomite and combined routes, in 1,744 scenarios with combinations of some important parameters. A multi-agent model was used to predict the infection risk distributions of the three hypothetical routes. Model selection was carried out for different scenarios to compare the distributions of infection risk with that of the reported attack rates and select the hypotheses with the best fitness. Our results reveal that under the assumed conditions, the SARS coronavirus was most possible to have spread via the combined long-range airborne and fomite routes, and that the fomite route played a non-negligible role in the transmission.

Concepts: Scientific method, Epidemiology, Prediction, Severe acute respiratory syndrome, Hypothesis, SARS coronavirus, Coronavirus, Hong Kong


Highly pathogenic severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) has developed strategies to inhibit host immune recognition. We identify cellular E3 ubiquitin ligase ring-finger and CHY zinc-finger domain-containing 1 (RCHY1) as an interacting partner of the viral SARS-unique domain (SUD) and papain-like protease (PL(pro)), and, as a consequence, the involvement of cellular p53 as antagonist of coronaviral replication. Residues 95-144 of RCHY1 and 389-652 of SUD (SUD-NM) subdomains are crucial for interaction. Association with SUD increases the stability of RCHY1 and augments RCHY1-mediated ubiquitination as well as degradation of p53. The calcium/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II delta (CAMK2D), which normally influences RCHY1 stability by phosphorylation, also binds to SUD. In vivo phosphorylation shows that SUD does not regulate phosphorylation of RCHY1 via CAMK2D. Similarly to SUD, the PL(pro)s from SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, and HCoV-NL63 physically interact with and stabilize RCHY1, and thus trigger degradation of endogenous p53. The SARS-CoV papain-like protease is encoded next to SUD within nonstructural protein 3. A SUD-PL(pro) fusion interacts with RCHY1 more intensively and causes stronger p53 degradation than SARS-CoV PL(pro) alone. We show that p53 inhibits replication of infectious SARS-CoV as well as of replicons and human coronavirus NL63. Hence, human coronaviruses antagonize the viral inhibitor p53 via stabilizing RCHY1 and promoting RCHY1-mediated p53 degradation. SUD functions as an enhancer to strengthen interaction between RCHY1 and nonstructural protein 3, leading to a further increase in in p53 degradation. The significance of these findings is that down-regulation of p53 as a major player in antiviral innate immunity provides a long-sought explanation for delayed activities of respective genes.

Concepts: Posttranslational modification, Severe acute respiratory syndrome, Enzyme inhibitor, Proteasome, Ubiquitin, Ubiquitin ligase, SARS coronavirus, Coronavirus


We have previously shown that SSYA10-001 blocks Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (SARS-CoV) replication by inhibiting SARS-CoV helicase (nsp13). Here, we show that SSYA10-001 also inhibits replication of two other coronaviruses, Mouse Hepatitis Virus (MHV) and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV). A putative binding pocket for SSYA10-001 was identified and shown to be similar in SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV and MHV helicases. These studies show that it is possible to target multiple coronaviruses through broad-spectrum inhibitors.

Concepts: Severe acute respiratory syndrome, Enzyme inhibitor, Inhibitor, Xanthine oxidase inhibitor, SARS coronavirus, Coronavirus, Nidovirales, Mouse hepatitis virus


Infections by type II feline coronaviruses (FCoVs) have been shown to be significantly correlated with fatal feline infectious peritonitis (FIP). Despite nearly six decades having passed since its first emergence, different studies have shown that type II FCoV represents only a small portion of the total FCoV seropositivity in cats; hence, there is very limited knowledge of the evolution of type II FCoV. To elucidate the correlation between viral emergence and FIP, a local isolate (NTU156) that was derived from a FIP cat was analyzed along with other worldwide strains. Containing an in-frame deletion of 442 nucleotides in open reading frame 3c, the complete genome size of NTU156 (28,897 nucleotides) appears to be the smallest among the known type II feline coronaviruses. Bootscan analysis revealed that NTU156 evolved from two crossover events between type I FCoV and canine coronavirus, with recombination sites located in the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase and M genes. With an exchange of nearly one-third of the genome with other members of alphacoronaviruses, the new emerging virus could gain new antigenicity, posing a threat to cats that either have been infected with a type I virus before or never have been infected with FCoV.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Virus, Genome, RNA, Coronavirus, Feline infectious peritonitis


Receptor recognition is a major determinant of the host range, cross-species infections, and pathogenesis of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV). A defined receptor-binding domain (RBD) in the SARS-CoV spike protein specifically recognizes its host receptor, angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2). This article reviews the latest knowledge about how RBDs from different SARS-CoV strains interact with ACE2 from several animal species. Detailed research on these RBD/ACE2 interactions has established important principles on host receptor adaptations, cross-species infections, and future evolution of SARS-CoV. These principles may apply to other emerging animal viruses, including the recently emerged Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV). This paper forms part of a series of invited articles in Antiviral Research on “From SARS to MERS: 10years of research on highly pathogenic human coronaviruses”.

Concepts: Immune system, Protein, Bacteria, Virus, Severe acute respiratory syndrome, SARS coronavirus, Coronavirus, Nidovirales


OBJECTIVES: A severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)-like disease due to a novel betacoronavirus, human coronavirus EMC (HCoV-EMC), has emerged recently. HCoV-EMC is phylogenetically closely related to Tylonycteris-bat-coronavirus-HKU4 and Pipistrellus-bat-coronavirus-HKU5 in Hong Kong. We conducted a seroprevalence study on archived sera from 94 game-food animal handlers at a wild life market, 28 SARS patients, and 152 healthy blood donors in Southern China to assess the zoonotic potential and evidence for intrusion of HCoV-EMC and related viruses into humans. METHODS: Anti-HCoV-EMC and anti-SARS-CoV antibodies were detected using screening indirect immunofluorescence (IF) and confirmatory neutralizing antibody tests. RESULTS: Two (2.1%) animal handlers had IF antibody titer of ≥1:20 against both HCoV-EMC and SARS-CoV with neutralizing antibody titer of ˂1:10. No blood donor had antibody against either virus. Surprisingly, 17/28 (60.7%) of SARS patients had significant IF antibody titers with 7/28 (25%) having anti-HCoV-EMC neutralizing antibodies at low titers which significantly correlated with that of HCoV-OC43. Bioinformatics analysis demonstrated a significant B-cell epitope overlapping the heptad repeat-2 region of Spike protein. Virulence of SARS-CoV over other betacoronaviruses may boost cross-reactive neutralizing antibodies against other betacoronaviruses. CONCLUSIONS: Further refinement of serological tests is necessary for studying intrusion of novel betacoronaviruses into human.

Concepts: Immune system, Antibody, Protein, Neutralizing antibody, Blood, Severe acute respiratory syndrome, Coronavirus, Immunofluorescence


From 2002 to 2003, a global pandemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) spread to five continents and caused 8,000 respiratory infections and 800 deaths. To ameliorate the effects of future outbreaks as well as to prepare for biodefense, a process for the production of a recombinant protein vaccine candidate is under development. Previously, we reported the 5-L scale expression and purification of a promising recombinant SARS vaccine candidate, RBD219-N1, the 218-amino acid residue receptor-binding domain (RBD) of SARS coronavirus expressed in yeast- Pichia pastoris X-33. When adjuvanted with aluminum hydroxide, this protein elicited high neutralizing antibody titers and high RBD-specific antibody titers. However, the yield of RBD219-N1 (60 mg RBD219-N1 per liter of fermentation supernatant; 60 mg/L FS) still required improvement to reach our target of >100 mg/L FS. In this study, we optimized the 10 L scale production process and increased the fermentation yield 6-7-fold to 400 mg/L FS with purification recovery >50%. A panel of characterization tests indicated that the process is reproducible and that the purified, tag-free RBD219-N1 protein has high purity and a well-defined structure and is therefore a suitable candidate for production under cGMP and future Phase 1 clinical trials.

Concepts: Immune system, DNA, Protein, Bacteria, Severe acute respiratory syndrome, Pandemic, SARS coronavirus, Coronavirus