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.
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