Traditionally, the emergence of coronaviruses (CoVs) has been attributed to a gain in receptor binding in a new host. Our previous work with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)-like viruses argued that bats already harbor CoVs with the ability to infect humans without adaptation. These results suggested that additional barriers limit the emergence of zoonotic CoV. In this work, we describe overcoming host restriction of two Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS)-like bat CoVs using exogenous protease treatment. We found that the spike protein of PDF2180-CoV, a MERS-like virus found in a Ugandan bat, could mediate infection of Vero and human cells in the presence of exogenous trypsin. We subsequently show that the bat virus spike can mediate the infection of human gut cells but is unable to infect human lung cells. Using receptor-blocking antibodies, we show that infection with the PDF2180 spike does not require MERS-CoV receptor DPP4 and antibodies developed against the MERS spike receptor-binding domain and S2 portion are ineffective in neutralizing the PDF2180 chimera. Finally, we found that the addition of exogenous trypsin also rescues HKU5-CoV, a second bat group 2c CoV. Together, these results indicate that proteolytic cleavage of the spike, not receptor binding, is the primary infection barrier for these two group 2c CoVs. Coupled with receptor binding, proteolytic activation offers a new parameter to evaluate the emergence potential of bat CoVs and offers a means to recover previously unrecoverable zoonotic CoV strains. IMPORTANCE Overall, our studies demonstrate that proteolytic cleavage is the primary barrier to infection for a subset of zoonotic coronaviruses. Moving forward, the results argue that both receptor binding and proteolytic cleavage of the spike are critical factors that must be considered for evaluating the emergence potential and risk posed by zoonotic coronaviruses. In addition, the findings also offer a novel means to recover previously uncultivable zoonotic coronavirus strains and argue that other tissues, including the digestive tract, could be a site for future coronavirus emergence events in humans.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Insect Science