The tetraspanin CD9 facilitates MERS-coronavirus entry by scaffolding host cell receptors and proteases

PLoS Pathog. 2017 Jul 31;13(7):e1006546. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1006546. eCollection 2017 Jul.


Infection by enveloped coronaviruses (CoVs) initiates with viral spike (S) proteins binding to cellular receptors, and is followed by proteolytic cleavage of receptor-bound S proteins, which prompts S protein-mediated virus-cell membrane fusion. Infection therefore requires close proximity of receptors and proteases. We considered whether tetraspanins, scaffolding proteins known to facilitate CoV infections, hold receptors and proteases together on cell membranes. Using knockout cell lines, we found that the tetraspanin CD9, but not the tetraspanin CD81, formed cell-surface complexes of dipeptidyl peptidase 4 (DPP4), the MERS-CoV receptor, and the type II transmembrane serine protease (TTSP) member TMPRSS2, a CoV-activating protease. This CD9-facilitated condensation of receptors and proteases allowed MERS-CoV pseudoviruses to enter cells rapidly and efficiently. Without CD9, MERS-CoV viruses were not activated by TTSPs, and they trafficked into endosomes to be cleaved much later and less efficiently by cathepsins. Thus, we identified DPP4:CD9:TTSP as the protein complexes necessary for early, efficient MERS-CoV entry. To evaluate the importance of these complexes in an in vivo CoV infection model, we used recombinant Adenovirus 5 (rAd5) vectors to express human DPP4 in mouse lungs, thereby sensitizing the animals to MERS-CoV infection. When the rAd5-hDPP4 vectors co-expressed small RNAs silencing Cd9 or Tmprss2, the animals were significantly less susceptible, indicating that CD9 and TMPRSS2 facilitated robust in vivo MERS-CoV infection of mouse lungs. Furthermore, the S proteins of virulent mouse-adapted MERS-CoVs acquired a CD9-dependent cell entry character, suggesting that CD9 is a selective agent in the evolution of CoV virulence.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Coronavirus Infections / enzymology
  • Coronavirus Infections / genetics
  • Coronavirus Infections / metabolism*
  • Coronavirus Infections / virology*
  • Dipeptidyl Peptidase 4 / genetics
  • Dipeptidyl Peptidase 4 / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus / genetics
  • Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus / physiology*
  • Receptors, Virus / genetics
  • Receptors, Virus / metabolism*
  • Serine Endopeptidases / genetics
  • Serine Endopeptidases / metabolism*
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus / genetics
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus / metabolism
  • Tetraspanin 28 / genetics
  • Tetraspanin 28 / metabolism
  • Tetraspanin 29 / genetics
  • Tetraspanin 29 / metabolism*
  • Virus Internalization


  • Receptors, Virus
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus
  • Tetraspanin 28
  • Tetraspanin 29
  • Dipeptidyl Peptidase 4
  • Serine Endopeptidases
  • TMPRSS2 protein, mouse