Team finds potential MERS transmission mechanism between bats and humans

August 12, 2014
MERS-CoV particles as seen by negative stain electron microscopy. Virions contain characteristic club-like projections emanating from the viral membrane. Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Researchers have identified the mechanism used by the deadly MERS virus to transmit from bats to humans. Bats are a native reservoir for MERS and the finding could be critical for understanding the animal origins of the virus, as well as preventing and controlling the spread of MERS and related viruses in humans.

The findings were published in the most recent edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Leading the research was Fang Li, Ph.D., associate professor of Pharmacology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. Graduate students Yang Yang and Chang Liu from Professor Li's lab participated in the research. The study was conducted in collaboration with Shibo Jiang, M.D., Ph.D. and Lanying Du, Ph.D., from the New York Blood Center, and Ralph Baric, Ph.D., from the University of North Carolina.

MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) was first diagnosed in 2012 and has infected over 800 people worldwide since then. About 40 percent of those infected were killed by the disease. Research has linked MERS to the same coronavirus family as the epidemic SARS. Both are believed to have originated in bats.

Researchers have known the MERS virus infects by attaching itself to a receptor molecule called dipeptidyl peptidase 4 (DPP4) and then entering human cells. However, it was not known how MERS was being transmitted from bats to humans.

"We wanted to better understand what prompted MERS to jump from bats to humans, and knew we needed to find a virus that was isolated in bats but had the potential to move into a human model," said Li. "HKU4 virus is related to MERS and has, so far, infected but not humans. It provided a good model for understanding the bat-to-human transmission process of MERS and related viruses."

After investigating both MERS and HKU4, researchers observed two major indicators MERS had adapted to human cells in a way HKU4 had not done yet.

The first discovery was that HKU4 virus recognizes the same receptor, DPP4, as MERS virus.. However, MERS virus uses the DPP4 molecule from human origin better, whereas HKU4 virus uses the DPP4 molecule from bat origin better. HKU4 also struggles to enter human cells once attached to the DPP4 receptor on the human cell surface. MERS does not have such a problem, though both viruses are able to enter bat cells.

"Overall, our findings suggest that MERS virus has successfully adapted to human cells for efficient infections, and HKU4 virus can potentially infect human cells," said Li. "MERS and MERS-related bat viruses present a constant and long-term threat to human health. So far little is known about these bat viruses that are evolutionary ancestors to human viruses. We need to look at bat viruses carefully, learn how they infect cells and jump species, and then develop strategies to block their transmission to humans."

Explore further: Origin of MERS coronavirus identified

More information: Receptor usage and cell entry of bat coronavirus HKU4 provide insight into bat-to-human transmission of MERS coronavirus, PNAS, www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1405889111

Related Stories

Origin of MERS coronavirus identified

October 10, 2013
The newly emerged Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) has circulated in bats for a substantial time, before making the species leap to humans, according to research published in BioMed Central's open access ...

Scientists find mystery virus in camels in Qatar

November 29, 2013
Health officials say they have found a mysterious respiratory virus in a herd of camels in Qatar linked to two human cases of the disease.

MERS coronavirus can be transmitted from camel to man

May 2, 2014
The MERS coronavirus is currently spreading very rapidly in the Arab world. An infection could affect human beings as well as camels, and has already cost more than 100 human lives. Scientists at the University of Veterinary ...

Jordanian dies of MERS virus

May 6, 2014
A man has died in Jordan after being infected with the MERS virus, a media report said Tuesday, in the kingdom's second fatality from the disease this year and fourth since 2012.

Does the dangerous new Middle East coronavirus have an African origin?

July 24, 2013
The MERS-coronavirus is regarded as a dangerous novel pathogen: Almost 50 people have died from infection with the virus since it was first discovered in 2012. To date all cases are connected with the Arabian peninsula. Scientists ...

Saudi death toll from MERS virus rises to 186

May 29, 2014
Saudi Arabia's Health Ministry says 13 people have died over the last two weeks from the Middle Eastern respiratory virus.

Recommended for you

Improving prediction accuracy of Crohn's disease based on repeated fecal sampling

November 21, 2017
Researchers at the University of California San Diego Center for Microbiome Innovation (CMI) have found that sampling the gut microbiome over time can provide insights that are not available with a single time point. The ...

Anti-malaria drug shows promise as Zika virus treatment

November 17, 2017
A new collaborative study led by researchers at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP) and UC San Diego School of Medicine has found that a medication used to prevent and treat malaria may also be effective ...

Decrease in sunshine, increase in Rickets

November 17, 2017
A University of Toronto student and professor have teamed up to discover that Britain's increasing cloudiness during the summer could be an important reason for the mysterious increase in Rickets among British children over ...

Scientists identify biomarkers that indicate likelihood of survival in infected patients

November 17, 2017
Scientists have identified a set of biomarkers that indicate which patients infected with the Ebola virus are most at risk of dying from the disease.

Research team unlocks secrets of Ebola

November 16, 2017
In a comprehensive and complex molecular study of blood samples from Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, published today (Nov. 16, 2017) in Cell Host and Microbe, a scientific team led by the University of Wisconsin-Madison has ...

Study raises possibility of naturally acquired immunity against Zika virus

November 16, 2017
Birth defects in babies born infected with Zika virus remain a major health concern. Now, scientists suggest the possibility that some women in high-risk Zika regions may already be protected and not know it.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.