Coronaviruses infect many species of animals including humans, causing acute and chronic diseases. This review focuses primarily on the pathogenesis of murine coronavirus mouse hepatitis virus (MHV) and severe acute respiratory coronavirus (SARS-CoV). MHV is a collection of strains, which provide models systems for the study of viral tropism and pathogenesis in several organs systems, including the central nervous system, the liver, and the lung, and has been cited as providing one of the few animal models for the study of chronic demyelinating diseases such as multiple sclerosis. SARS-CoV emerged in the human population in China in 2002, causing a worldwide epidemic with severe morbidity and high mortality rates, particularly in older individuals. We review the pathogenesis of both viruses and the several reverse genetics systems that made much of these studies possible. We also review the functions of coronavirus proteins, structural, enzymatic, and accessory, with an emphasis on roles in pathogenesis. Structural proteins in addition to their roles in virion structure and morphogenesis also contribute significantly to viral spread in vivo and in antagonizing host cell responses. Nonstructural proteins include the small accessory proteins that are not at all conserved between MHV and SARS-CoV and the 16 conserved proteins encoded in the replicase locus, many of which have enzymatic activities in RNA metabolism or protein processing in addition to functions in antagonizing host response.
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