Human coronavirus OC43 and bovine coronavirus elute from agglutinated chicken erythrocytes when incubated at 37 degrees C, suggesting the presence of a receptor-destroying enzyme. Moreover, bovine coronavirus exhibits an acetylesterase activity in vitro using bovine submaxillary mucin as substrate similar to the enzymatic activity found in influenza C viruses. Furthermore, pretreatment of erythrocytes with either influenza C virus or bovine coronavirus eliminates subsequent binding and agglutination by either coronaviruses or influenza C virus, whereas binding of influenza A virus remains intact. In addition, hemagglutination by coronaviruses can be inhibited by pretreatment of erythrocytes with Arthrobacter ureafaciens or Clostridium perfringens neuraminidase or by addition of sialic acid-containing gangliosides. These results suggest that, like influenza C viruses, human coronavirus OC43 and bovine coronavirus recognize O-acetylated sialic acid or a similar derivative as cell receptor.