Epidemiology, Genetic Recombination, and Pathogenesis of Coronaviruses

Trends Microbiol. 2016 Jun;24(6):490-502. doi: 10.1016/j.tim.2016.03.003. Epub 2016 Mar 21.


Human coronaviruses (HCoVs) were first described in the 1960s for patients with the common cold. Since then, more HCoVs have been discovered, including those that cause severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), two pathogens that, upon infection, can cause fatal respiratory disease in humans. It was recently discovered that dromedary camels in Saudi Arabia harbor three different HCoV species, including a dominant MERS HCoV lineage that was responsible for the outbreaks in the Middle East and South Korea during 2015. In this review we aim to compare and contrast the different HCoVs with regard to epidemiology and pathogenesis, in addition to the virus evolution and recombination events which have, on occasion, resulted in outbreaks amongst humans.

Keywords: MERS; SARS; coronavirus; evolution; pathogenesis; recombination.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Coronavirus / classification
  • Coronavirus / genetics*
  • Coronavirus / pathogenicity*
  • Coronavirus Infections / epidemiology*
  • Coronavirus Infections / transmission
  • Coronavirus Infections / virology*
  • Cross Infection / epidemiology
  • Cross Infection / virology
  • Disease Outbreaks
  • Ecology
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Humans
  • Middle East / epidemiology
  • Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus / genetics
  • Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus / pathogenicity
  • Phylogeny
  • Recombination, Genetic*
  • Republic of Korea / epidemiology
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / epidemiology
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / virology
  • SARS Virus / genetics
  • SARS Virus / pathogenicity
  • Saudi Arabia / epidemiology
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome / transmission

Grant support