Bat-to-human: spike features determining 'host jump' of coronaviruses SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, and beyond

Trends Microbiol. 2015 Aug;23(8):468-78. doi: 10.1016/j.tim.2015.06.003. Epub 2015 Jul 21.


Both severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) are zoonotic pathogens that crossed the species barriers to infect humans. The mechanism of viral interspecies transmission is an important scientific question to be addressed. These coronaviruses contain a surface-located spike (S) protein that initiates infection by mediating receptor-recognition and membrane fusion and is therefore a key factor in host specificity. In addition, the S protein needs to be cleaved by host proteases before executing fusion, making these proteases a second determinant of coronavirus interspecies infection. Here, we summarize the progress made in the past decade in understanding the cross-species transmission of SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV by focusing on the features of the S protein, its receptor-binding characteristics, and the cleavage process involved in priming.

Keywords: MERS-CoV; SARS-CoV; coronavirus; interspecies transmission; spike (S); viral and host determinants.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chiroptera
  • Coronavirus Infections / transmission
  • Coronavirus Infections / veterinary*
  • Host Specificity*
  • Humans
  • Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus / genetics
  • Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus / physiology*
  • Protein Binding
  • SARS Virus / genetics
  • SARS Virus / physiology*
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus / genetics
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus / metabolism*
  • Viral Tropism*
  • Virus Internalization
  • Zoonoses / transmission*


  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus