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J Med Virol. 2004 Jul;73(3):323-31.

SARS coronavirus induces apoptosis in Vero E6 cells.

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School of Life Sciences, Wuhan University, Wuhan, China.


Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is an emerging infectious disease. Its etiological agent has been convincingly identified as a new member of family Coronaviridae (SARS-CoV). It causes serious damage to the respiratory system yet the mechanism is not clear. Infection-induced apoptosis or necrosis is suspected but no direct evidence for this yet exists. To date, Vero E6 cells are the only cell line that could be used to replicate the virus with obvious CPE (cytopathic effect) in vitro. It is known for some viruses (including members of family Coronaviridae) that CPE can be caused either by virus-induced apoptosis (active death) or cell necrosis (passive death). In this study, we examined the apoptosis in the SARS-CoV infected Vero E6 cells. Indeed, the results do show that the CPE was induced by apoptosis rather than necrosis, shown by typical DNA fragmentation, through the existence of apoptotic bodies and swollen mitochondria. This observation has some implications for the SARS-CoV pathogenicity: SARS-CoV does induce apoptosis in cell cultures and might have the same effect in vivo, responsible for the severe damage of the respiratory system.

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