20 September 2017

Publication by Berend-Jan Bosch and his fellow virologists in scientific journal PNAS

MERS coronavirus infects human lung cells via sugar molecules

The MERS coronavirus (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus) is a zoonotic virus that originated in dromedaries. The viruses can transfer to humans, however, where they cause serious lung infections that often end in death. Berend-Jan Bosch and his colleagues have discovered that the virus uses sugar molecules to penetrate into the host cell. The publication about their findings was published in the scientific journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

Bosch and his colleagues from Virology (section of the Department of Infection & Immunity) conducted research into how the MERS coronavirus (MERS-CoV) attaches to the cell. “Together with our colleagues from the ErasmusMC in Rotterdam, we had already proven that the MERS coronavirus uses one of the host cell’s proteins (DPP2) to bond with the cell”, says research leader Bosch.

We discovered that the MERS coronavirus also attaches to sugar molecules in order to infect human lung cells.

Clear preference

“Now we have discovered that the MERS coronavirus also attaches to sugar molecules called sialic acids in order to infect human lung cells. The virus appears to have a clear preference for specific sialic acids, but there is a considerable variation within the sialic acids and their distribution among different animals and humans. We therefore suspect that the preference that the MERS virus displays for specific types of sialic acids has an effect on its ability to infect the host cell.”

Publication in PNAS

The study was conducted in collaboration with a variety of Dutch and international partners. The publication was recently published in the scientific journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).