15 May 2018

Researchers unravel infection strategy of new coronavirus

Researchers of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine have clarified the infection strategy of a recently identified virus that causes severe diarrheal disease in piglets. They discovered the ‘receptor’ protein on the host cell to which the virus binds to initiate infection, and found a possible mechanism of virus transmission from pigs to other species.  

The recently identified virus is the porcine deltacoronavirus. Coronaviruses can cause mild to severe respiratory and enteric disease in animals and humans. Some coronaviruses, such as the SARS- and the MERS-coronavirus, can jump from animals to humans, with sometimes lethal outcome. Cross-species transmission of coronaviruses is dependent on the ability of these viruses to bind the receptor protein on the new host cell. 

The zoonotic SARS and MERS viruses have demonstrated the impact that coronaviruses can have on public health. Further research is needed to study coronaviruses, and to assess their capacity to jump from animals to humans.
Department of Infectious Diseases and Immunology - Virology

Cell entry

Berend Jan Bosch, virologist at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine: “We discovered that the virus binds the protein aminopeptidase N (APN) on the surface of the host cell. Binding to APN subsequently facilitates virus entry into the host cell.” 

Strategy for cross-species transmission

The researchers report that the new porcine coronavirus can infect cells of a range of animal species. Bosch and his team revealed the underlying strategy: “The virus is found in pigs, but it can also bind the APN-protein of other mammals including humans, and of birds. It appears to bind to a site on APN that is highly conserved across animal species. Our research provides insight into a possible mechanism of virus transmission from pigs to other species, including humans.”

Collaboration

Bosch: “The zoonotic SARS and MERS viruses have demonstrated the impact that coronaviruses can have on public health. Further research is needed to study the prevalence of coronaviruses in animals, and to assess their capacity to jump from animals to humans.” The research was done in collaboration with american virologists and published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences .