Angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) proteins of different bat species confer variable susceptibility to SARS-CoV entry

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine by Yuxuan Hou, Cheng Peng, Meng Yu, Yan Li, Zhenggang Han, Fang Li, Lin-Fa Wang and Zhengli Shi’


The discovery of SARS-like coronavirus in bats suggests that bats could be the natural reservoir of SARS-CoV. However, previous studies indicated the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) protein, a known SARS-CoV receptor, from a horseshoe bat was unable to act as a functional receptor for SARS-CoV. Here, we extended our previous study to ACE2 molecules from seven additional bat species and tested their interactions with human SARS-CoV spike protein using both HIV-based pseudotype and live SARS-CoV infection assays.

The results show that ACE2s of Myotis daubentoni and Rhinolophus sinicus support viral entry mediated by the SARS-CoV S protein, albeit with different efficiency in comparison to that of the human ACE2. Further, the alteration of several key residues either decreased or enhanced bat ACE2 receptor efficiency, as predicted from a structural modeling study of the different bat ACE2 molecules. These data suggest that M. daubentoni and R. sinicus are likely to be susceptible to SARS-CoV and may be candidates as the natural host of the SARS-CoV progenitor viruses.

Furthermore, our current study also demonstrates that the genetic diversity of ACE2 among bats is greater than that observed among known SARS-CoV susceptible mammals, highlighting the possibility that there are many more uncharacterized bat species that can act as a reservoir of SARS-CoV or its progenitor viruses. This calls for continuation and expansion of field surveillance studies among different bat populations to eventually identify the true natural reservoir of SARS-CoV.


Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) is the aetiological agent responsible for the SARS outbreaks during 2002–2003, which had a huge global impact on public health, travel and the world economy [4, 11]. The host range of SARS-CoV is largely determined by the specific and high-affinity interactions between a defined receptor-binding domain (RBD) on the SARS-CoV spike protein and its host receptor, angiontensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) [6, 7, 9]. It has been hypothesized that SARS-CoV was harbored in its natural reservoir, bats, and was transmitted directly or indirectly from bats to palm civets and then to humans [10].

However, although the genetically related SARS-like coronavirus (SL-CoV) has been identified in horseshoe bats of the genus Rhinolophus [5, 8, 12, 18], its spike protein was not able to use the human ACE2 (hACE2) protein as a receptor [13]. Close examination of the crystal structure of human SARS-CoV RBD complexed with hACE2 suggests that truncations in the receptor-binding motif (RBM) region of SL-CoV spike protein abolish its hACE2-binding ability [7, 10], and hence the SL-CoV found recently in horseshoe bats is unlikely to be the direct ancestor of human SARS-CoV. Also, it has been shown that the human SARS-CoV spike protein and its closely related civet SARS-CoV spike protein were not able to use a horseshoe bat (R. pearsoni) ACE2 as a receptor [13], highlighting a critical missing link in the bat-to-civet/human transmission chain of SARS-CoV.

There are at least three plausible scenarios to explain the origin of SARS-CoV. First, some unknown intermediate hosts were responsible for the adaptation and transmission of SARS-CoV from bats to civets or humans. This is the most popular theory of SARS-CoV transmission at the present time [10]. Second, there is an SL-CoV with a very close relationship to the outbreak SARS-CoV strains in a non-bat animal host that is capable of direct transmission from reservoir host to human or civet. Third, ACE2 from yet to be identified bat species may function as an efficient receptor, and these bats could be the direct reservoir of human or civet SARS-CoV.

Unraveling which scenario is most likely to have occurred during the 2002–2003 SARS epidemic is critical for our understanding of the dynamics of the outbreak and will play a key role in helping us to prevent future outbreaks. To this end, we have extended our studies to include ACE2 molecules from different bat species and examined their interaction with the human SARS-CoV spike protein. Our results show that there is great genetic diversity among bat ACE2 molecules, especially at the key residues known to be important for interacting with the viral spike protein, and that ACE2s of Myotis daubentoni and Rhinolophus sinicus from Hubei province can support viral entry.

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