Background: Evidence points to the emergence of a novel human coronavirus, Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), which causes a severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)-like disease. In response, the development of effective vaccines and therapeutics remains a clinical priority. To accomplish this, it is necessary to evaluate neutralizing antibodies and screen for MERS-CoV entry inhibitors.
Methods: In this study, we produced a pseudovirus bearing the full-length spike (S) protein of MERS-CoV in the Env-defective, luciferase-expressing HIV-1 backbone. We then established a pseudovirus-based inhibition assay to detect neutralizing antibodies and anti-MERS-CoV entry inhibitors.
Results: Our results demonstrated that the generated MERS-CoV pseudovirus allows for single-cycle infection of a variety of cells expressing dipeptidyl peptidase-4 (DPP4), the confirmed receptor for MERS-CoV. Consistent with the results from a live MERS-CoV-based inhibition assay, the antisera of mice vaccinated with a recombinant protein containing receptor-binding domain (RBD, residues 377-662) of MERS-CoV S fused with Fc of human IgG exhibited neutralizing antibody response against infection of MERS-CoV pseudovirus. Furthermore, one small molecule HIV entry inhibitor targeting gp41 (ADS-J1) and the 3-hydroxyphthalic anhydride-modified human serum albumin (HP-HSA) could significantly inhibit MERS-CoV pseudovirus infection.
Conclusion: Taken together, the established MERS-CoV inhibition assay is a safe and convenient pseudovirus-based alternative to BSL-3 live-virus restrictions and can be used to rapidly screen MERS-CoV entry inhibitors, as well as evaluate vaccine-induced neutralizing antibodies against the highly pathogenic MERS-CoV.