The cellular and molecular pathogenesis of coronaviruses

Lab Anim Sci. 1993 Feb;43(1):15-28.


Coronaviruses cause a wide spectrum of diseases in humans and animals but generally fall into two classes, with respiratory or enteric tropisms. Mouse hepatitis virus (MHV) and rat coronaviruses are the viruses most frequently encountered in the laboratory animal setting. This review focuses primarily on the cellular and molecular aspects of MHV pathogenesis. The high mutation and recombination rates of coronaviruses lead to a diverse, ever-changing population of MHV strains. The spike (S) protein is the most variable coronavirus protein and is responsible for binding to cell surface receptors, inducing cell fusion and humoral and cellular immunity. Differences within the S protein of different MHV strains have been linked to their variable tropisms. Since immunity to MHV is strain-specific, seropositive mice can be reinfected with different strains of MHV. Natural infections with MHV are acute, with persistence occurring at the population level, not within an individual mouse, unless it is immunocompromised. Age, genotype, immunologic status of the mouse, and MHV strain influence the type and severity of disease caused by MHV. Interference with research by MHV has been reported primarily in the fields of immunology and tumor biology and may be a reflection of MHV's capacity to grow in several types of immune cells. While many methods are available to diagnose coronavirus infection, serologic tests, primarily ELISA and IFA, are the most commonly used. MHV is best managed on a preventive basis. Elimination of MHV from a population requires cessation of breeding and halting the introduction of naive mice into the population.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Hepatitis, Viral, Animal / diagnosis
  • Hepatitis, Viral, Animal / microbiology*
  • Humans
  • Murine hepatitis virus / immunology
  • Murine hepatitis virus / pathogenicity
  • Murine hepatitis virus / physiology*
  • Viral Proteins
  • Virion
  • Virus Replication


  • Viral Proteins