From SARS to MERS, Thrusting Coronaviruses into the Spotlight

Viruses. 2019 Jan 14;11(1):59. doi: 10.3390/v11010059.


Coronaviruses (CoVs) have formerly been regarded as relatively harmless respiratory pathogens to humans. However, two outbreaks of severe respiratory tract infection, caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), as a result of zoonotic CoVs crossing the species barrier, caused high pathogenicity and mortality rates in human populations. This brought CoVs global attention and highlighted the importance of controlling infectious pathogens at international borders. In this review, we focus on our current understanding of the epidemiology, pathogenesis, prevention, and treatment of SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, as well as provides details on the pivotal structure and function of the spike proteins (S proteins) on the surface of each of these viruses. For building up more suitable animal models, we compare the current animal models recapitulating pathogenesis and summarize the potential role of host receptors contributing to diverse host affinity in various species. We outline the research still needed to fully elucidate the pathogenic mechanism of these viruses, to construct reproducible animal models, and ultimately develop countermeasures to conquer not only SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, but also these emerging coronaviral diseases.

Keywords: MERS-CoV; SARS-CoV; animal model; coronaviruses; prevention and treatment; spike proteins.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • China / epidemiology
  • Chiroptera / virology
  • Coronavirus Infections / drug therapy
  • Coronavirus Infections / epidemiology
  • Coronavirus Infections / prevention & control*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Genome, Viral
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Middle East / epidemiology
  • Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus / genetics
  • Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus / pathogenicity*
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome / drug therapy
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome / prevention & control*
  • Severe acute respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus / genetics
  • Severe acute respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus / pathogenicity*
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus
  • Viral Vaccines / immunology
  • Zoonoses / transmission
  • Zoonoses / virology


  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus
  • Viral Vaccines