To understand how Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) transmitted from bats to humans, we compared the virus surface spikes of MERS-CoV and a related bat coronavirus, HKU4. Although HKU4 spike cannot mediate viral entry into human cells, two mutations enabled it to do so by allowing it to be activated by human proteases. These mutations are present in MERS-CoV spike, explaining why MERS-CoV infects human cells. These mutations therefore played critical roles in the bat-to-human transmission of MERS-CoV, either directly or through intermediate hosts.
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© 2015, American Society for Microbiology.