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Concept: Severe acute respiratory syndrome


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 novel human coronavirus (HCoV-EMC/2012) was isolated from a man with acute pneumonia and renal failure in June 2012. This report describes the complete genome sequence, genome organization, and expression strategy of HCoV-EMC/2012 and its relation with known coronaviruses. The genome contains 30,119 nucleotides and contains at least 10 predicted open reading frames, 9 of which are predicted to be expressed from a nested set of seven subgenomic mRNAs. Phylogenetic analysis of the replicase gene of coronaviruses with completely sequenced genomes showed that HCoV-EMC/2012 is most closely related to Tylonycteris bat coronavirus HKU4 (BtCoV-HKU4) and Pipistrellus bat coronavirus HKU5 (BtCoV-HKU5), which prototype two species in lineage C of the genus Betacoronavirus. In accordance with the guidelines of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses, and in view of the 75% and 77% amino acid sequence identity in 7 conserved replicase domains with BtCoV-HKU4 and BtCoV-HKU5, respectively, we propose that HCoV-EMC/2012 prototypes a novel species in the genus Betacoronavirus. HCoV-EMC/2012 may be most closely related to a coronavirus detected in Pipistrellus pipistrellus in The Netherlands, but because only a short sequence from the most conserved part of the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase-encoding region of the genome was reported for this bat virus, its genetic distance from HCoV-EMC remains uncertain. HCoV-EMC/2012 is the sixth coronavirus known to infect humans and the first human virus within betacoronavirus lineage C. IMPORTANCE Coronaviruses are capable of infecting humans and many animal species. Most infections caused by human coronaviruses are relatively mild. However, the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) caused by SARS-CoV in 2002 to 2003 and the fatal infection of a human by HCoV-EMC/2012 in 2012 show that coronaviruses are able to cause severe, sometimes fatal disease in humans. We have determined the complete genome of HCoV-EMC/2012 using an unbiased virus discovery approach involving next-generation sequencing techniques, which enabled subsequent state-of-the-art bioinformatics, phylogenetics, and taxonomic analyses. By establishing its complete genome sequence, HCoV-EMC/2012 was characterized as a new genotype which is closely related to bat coronaviruses that are distant from SARS-CoV. We expect that this information will be vital to rapid advancement of both clinical and vital research on this emerging pathogen.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Virus, Genome, RNA, Acute respiratory distress syndrome, Severe acute respiratory syndrome


A human coronavirus, called the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), was first identified in September 2012 in samples obtained from a Saudi Arabian businessman who died from acute respiratory failure. Since then, 49 cases of infections caused by MERS-CoV (previously called a novel coronavirus) with 26 deaths have been reported to date. In this report, we describe a family case cluster of MERS-CoV infection, including the clinical presentation, treatment outcomes, and household relationships of three young men who became ill with MERS-CoV infection after the hospitalization of an elderly male relative, who died of the disease. Twenty-four other family members living in the same household and 124 attending staff members at the hospitals did not become ill. MERS-CoV infection may cause a spectrum of clinical illness. Although an animal reservoir is suspected, none has been discovered. Meanwhile, global concern rests on the ability of MERS-CoV to cause major illness in close contacts of patients.

Concepts: Disease, Severe acute respiratory syndrome, Saudi Arabia, Arabian Peninsula, Riyadh, United Arab Emirates, Middle East, Arabic language


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 Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronavirus has caused recurrent outbreaks in the Arabian Peninsula since 2012. Although MERS has low overall human-to-human transmission potential, there is occasional amplification in the healthcare setting, a pattern reminiscent of the dynamics of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreaks in 2003. Here we provide a head-to-head comparison of exposure patterns and transmission dynamics of large hospital clusters of MERS and SARS, including the most recent South Korean outbreak of MERS in 2015.

Concepts: Severe acute respiratory syndrome, Saudi Arabia, Arabian Peninsula, United Arab Emirates, Middle East, Jordan


Pandemics and epidemics have ravaged human societies throughout history. The plague, cholera, and smallpox killed tens of millions of people and destroyed civilizations. In the past 100 years, the “Spanish Flu” of 1918-1919 and HIV-AIDS caused the deaths of nearly 100 million people. Advances in medicine have transformed our defenses against the threat of infectious disease. Better hygiene, antibiotics, diagnostics, and vaccines have given us far more effective tools for preventing and responding to outbreaks. Yet the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), and the recent West African Ebola outbreak show that we cannot be . . .

Concepts: Epidemiology, Infectious disease, Influenza, Severe acute respiratory syndrome, Smallpox, Pandemic, Black Death, Pandemics


Outbreaks from zoonotic sources represent a threat to both human disease as well as the global economy. Despite a wealth of metagenomics studies, methods to leverage these datasets to identify future threats are underdeveloped. In this study, we describe an approach that combines existing metagenomics data with reverse genetics to engineer reagents to evaluate emergence and pathogenic potential of circulating zoonotic viruses. Focusing on the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)-like viruses, the results indicate that the WIV1-coronavirus (CoV) cluster has the ability to directly infect and may undergo limited transmission in human populations. However, in vivo attenuation suggests additional adaptation is required for epidemic disease. Importantly, available SARS monoclonal antibodies offered success in limiting viral infection absent from available vaccine approaches. Together, the data highlight the utility of a platform to identify and prioritize prepandemic strains harbored in animal reservoirs and document the threat posed by WIV1-CoV for emergence in human populations.

Concepts: Immune system, Epidemiology, Disease, Infectious disease, Bacteria, Virus, Infection, Severe acute respiratory syndrome


The 2002-3 pandemic caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) was one of the most significant public health events in recent history. An ongoing outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus suggests that this group of viruses remains a key threat and that their distribution is wider than previously recognized. Although bats have been suggested to be the natural reservoirs of both viruses, attempts to isolate the progenitor virus of SARS-CoV from bats have been unsuccessful. Diverse SARS-like coronaviruses (SL-CoVs) have now been reported from bats in China, Europe and Africa, but none is considered a direct progenitor of SARS-CoV because of their phylogenetic disparity from this virus and the inability of their spike proteins to use the SARS-CoV cellular receptor molecule, the human angiotensin converting enzyme II (ACE2). Here we report whole-genome sequences of two novel bat coronaviruses from Chinese horseshoe bats (family: Rhinolophidae) in Yunnan, China: RsSHC014 and Rs3367. These viruses are far more closely related to SARS-CoV than any previously identified bat coronaviruses, particularly in the receptor binding domain of the spike protein. Most importantly, we report the first recorded isolation of a live SL-CoV (bat SL-CoV-WIV1) from bat faecal samples in Vero E6 cells, which has typical coronavirus morphology, 99.9% sequence identity to Rs3367 and uses ACE2 from humans, civets and Chinese horseshoe bats for cell entry. Preliminary in vitro testing indicates that WIV1 also has a broad species tropism. Our results provide the strongest evidence to date that Chinese horseshoe bats are natural reservoirs of SARS-CoV, and that intermediate hosts may not be necessary for direct human infection by some bat SL-CoVs. They also highlight the importance of pathogen-discovery programs targeting high-risk wildlife groups in emerging disease hotspots as a strategy for pandemic preparedness.

Concepts: Protein, Evolution, Receptor, Severe acute respiratory syndrome, Bat, Rabies, Vero cell, Microbat


The identification of a novel β coronavirus, nCoV, as the causative agent of severe respiratory illness in humans originating in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan has raised concerns about the possibility of a coronavirus pandemic similar to that of SARS-CoV. As a definitive treatment regimen has never been thoroughly evaluated for coronavirus infections, there is an urgent need to rapidly identify potential therapeutics to address future cases of nCoV. To determine an intervention strategy, the effect of interferon-α2b and ribavirin on nCoV isolate hCoV-EMC/2012 replication in Vero and LLC-MK2 cells was evaluated. hCoV-EMC/2012 was sensitive to both interferon-α2b and ribavirin alone in Vero and LLC-MK2 cells, but only at relatively high concentrations; however, when combined, lower concentrations of interferon-α2b and ribavirin achieved comparable endpoints. Thus, a combination of interferon-α2b and ribavirin, which are already commonly used in the clinic, may be useful for patient management in the event of future nCoV infections.

Concepts: Severe acute respiratory syndrome, Saudi Arabia, Arabian Peninsula, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan


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