Emerging and re-emerging pathogens represent a substantial threat to public health, as demonstrated with numerous outbreaks over the past years, including the 2013-2016 outbreak of Ebola virus in western Africa. Coronaviruses are also a threat for humans, as evidenced in2002/2003 with infection by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV), which caused more than 8000 human infections with 10% fatality rate in 37 countries. Ten years later, a novel human coronavirus (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, MERS-CoV), associated with severe pneumonia, arose in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Until December 2016, MERS has accounted for more than 1800 cases and 35% fatality rate. Finding an animal model of disease is key to develop vaccines or antivirals against such emerging pathogens and to understand its pathogenesis. Knowledge of the potential role of domestic livestock and other animal species inthe transmission of pathogens is of importance to understand the epidemiology of the disease. Little is known about MERS-CoV animal host range. In this paper, experimental data on potential hosts for MERS-CoV is reviewed. Advantages and limitations of different animal models are evaluated in relation to viral pathogenesis and transmission studies. Finally, the relevance of potential new target species is discussed.
Dromedary camels are the main reservoir of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), but other livestock species (i.e., alpacas, llamas, and pigs) are also susceptible to infection with MERS-CoV. Animal-to-animal transmission in alpacas was reported, but evidence for transmission in other species has not been proved. This study explored pig-to-pig MERS-CoV transmission experimentally. Virus was present in nasal swabs of infected animals, and limited amounts of viral RNA, but no infectious virus were detected in the direct contact pigs. No virus was detected in the indirect contact group. Furthermore, direct and indirect contact pigs did not develop specific antibodies against MERS-CoV. Therefore, the role of pigs as reservoir is probably negligible, although it deserves further confirmation.
Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) causes lethal disease in humans, which is characterized by exacerbated inflammatory response and extensive lung pathology. To address the relevance of small non-coding RNAs in SARS-CoV pathology, we deep sequenced RNAs from the lungs of infected mice and discovered three 18–22 nt small viral RNAs (svRNAs). The three svRNAs were derived from the nsp3 (svRNA-nsp3.1 and -nsp3.2) and N (svRNA-N) genomic regions of SARS-CoV. Biogenesis of CoV svRNAs was RNase III, cell type, and host species independent, but it was dependent on the extent of viral replication. Antagomir-mediated inhibition of svRNA-N significantly reduced in vivo lung pathology and pro-inflammatory cytokine expression. Taken together, these data indicate that svRNAs contribute to SARS-CoV pathogenesis and highlight the potential of svRNA-N antagomirs as antivirals.