Research ArticleInfectious Disease

Potent Neutralization of MERS-CoV by Human Neutralizing Monoclonal Antibodies to the Viral Spike Glycoprotein

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Science Translational Medicine  30 Apr 2014:
Vol. 6, Issue 234, pp. 234ra59
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3008140

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Neutralizing MERS-CoV

A camel gets sick, and infects a man. A health care worker succumbs. A migrant laborer gets off a plane thousands of miles away, unaware that he’s infected. This may sound like a trailer for the latest pandemic thriller, but for people infected with Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), the story hits close to home. MERS-CoV is an emerging infection that causes severe and fatal acute respiratory illness in humans. Although the number of people infected to date remains small, the high mortality rate (currently estimated at around 40%) and clusters of human-to-human transmission raise concerns of a MERS-CoV pandemic. What’s more, no MERS-CoV–specific therapy or vaccine is currently available. Now, Jiang et al. report the development of human monoclonal neutralizing antibodies to MERS-CoV with the potential to treat human patients.

MERS-CoV enters target cells through binding of the receptor binding domain (RBD) of the viral envelope spike glycoprotein to the cellular receptor dipeptidyl peptidase 4 (DPP4). The authors therefore developed antibodies against this RBD in an effort to block cell-to-cell transmission. Two of these antibodies inhibited infection of MERS-CoV variants in vitro by blocking the interaction of the RBD with DPP4. These antibodies recognize distinct regions of RBD and can work in concert. Although the antibodies still need to be tested in both animal and human trials, they provide hope for a therapy for a potentially emerging pandemic where none currently exists.

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