The recently emerged severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) is a potent pathogen of humans and is capable of rapid global spread. Peptide-conjugated antisense morpholino oligomers (P-PMO) were designed to bind by base pairing to specific sequences in the SARS-CoV (Tor2 strain) genome. The P-PMO were tested for their capacity to inhibit production of infectious virus as well as to probe the function of conserved viral RNA motifs and secondary structures. Several virus-targeted P-PMO and a random-sequence control P-PMO showed low inhibitory activity against SARS coronavirus. Certain other virus-targeted P-PMO reduced virus-induced cytopathology and cell-to-cell spread as a consequence of decreasing viral amplification. Active P-PMO were effective when administered at any time prior to peak viral synthesis and exerted sustained antiviral effects while present in culture medium. P-PMO showed low nonspecific inhibitory activity against translation of nontargeted RNA or growth of the arenavirus lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus. Two P-PMO targeting the viral transcription-regulatory sequence (TRS) region in the 5' untranslated region were the most effective inhibitors tested. After several viral passages in the presence of a TRS-targeted P-PMO, partially drug-resistant SARS-CoV mutants arose which contained three contiguous base point mutations at the binding site of a TRS-targeted P-PMO. Those partially resistant viruses grew more slowly and formed smaller plaques than wild-type SARS-CoV. These results suggest PMO compounds have powerful therapeutic and investigative potential toward coronavirus infection.