What is it about?

The Middle East Respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) can cause a severe and frequently fatal disease in infected humans. It is transmitted from camels to humans but human-to-human transmission is at present inefficient. However, there are concerns that the virus might acquire mutations that allow for efficient spread among humans which may results in a MERS pandemic. During a MERS outbreak in Korea a MERS-CoV variant emerged and was transmitted between patients that harbored mutations in the viral spike protein – the protein that mediates viral entry into target cells. Our study shows that these mutations might be compatible with robust viral spread in cells expressing high amounts of receptor and partially protect the virus from recognition by neutralizing antibodies.

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Why is it important?

Our study indicates that MERS-CoV can evade control by the antibody response. Therefore, strategies that rely on treating MERS with a single antibody might not work efficiently.


It will be important to monitor whether MERS-CoV variants emerge that carry mutations which might change transmissibility and other biological properties of the virus. For this, establishment of novel cell culture assays is required that allow predicting whether a viral variant might have an augmented capacity for person-to-person spread.

Professor Stefan Pöhlmann
German Primate Center

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This page is a summary of: Mutations in the Spike Protein of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus Transmitted in Korea Increase Resistance to Antibody-Mediated Neutralization, Journal of Virology, November 2018, ASM Journals, DOI: 10.1128/jvi.01381-18.
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