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Virology. 2006 Apr 10;347(2):410-21. Epub 2006 Jan 18.

Murine encephalitis caused by HCoV-OC43, a human coronavirus with broad species specificity, is partly immune-mediated.

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Interdisciplinary Program in Immunology, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242, USA.


The human coronavirus HCoV-OC43 causes a significant fraction of upper respiratory tract infections. Most coronaviruses show a strong species specificity, although the SARS-Coronavirus crossed species from palm civet cats to infect humans. Similarly, HCoV-OC43, likely a member of the same coronavirus group as SARS-CoV, readily crossed the species barrier as evidenced by its rapid adaptation to the murine brain [McIntosh, K., Becker, W.B., Chanock, R.M., 1967. Growth in suckling-mouse brain of "IBV-like" viruses from patients with upper respiratory tract disease. Proc Natl Acad Sci U.S.A. 58, 2268-73]. Herein, we investigated two consequences of this plasticity in species tropism. First, we showed that HCoV-OC43 was able to infect cells from a large number of mammalian species. Second, we showed that virus that was passed exclusively in suckling mouse brains was highly virulent and caused a uniformly fatal encephalitis in adult mice. The surface glycoprotein is a major virulence factor in most coronavirus infections. We identified three changes in the HCoV-OC43 surface glycoprotein that correlated with enhanced neurovirulence in mice; these were located in the domain of the protein responsible for binding to host cells. These data suggest that some coronaviruses, including HCoV-OC43 and SARS-CoV, readily adapt to growth in cells from heterologous species. This adaptability has facilitated the isolation of HCoV-OC43 viral variants with markedly differing abilities to infect animals and tissue culture cells.

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