Rhesus angiotensin converting enzyme 2 supports entry of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus in Chinese macaques

Yunxin Chen, Li Liu, Qiang Wei, Hua Zhu, Hong Jiang, Xinming Tu, Chuan Qin, Zhiwei Chen
Virology 2008 November 10, 381 (1): 89-97
Angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) is the receptor that severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) utilizes for target cell entry and, therefore, plays an important role in SARS pathogenesis. Since Chinese rhesus (rh) macaques do not usually develop SARS after SARS-CoV infection, it has been suggested that rh-ACE2 probably does not support viral entry efficiently. To determine the role of rh-ACE2 in early lung pathogenesis in vivo, we studied eleven Chinese rhesus monkeys experimentally infected with a pathogenic SARS-CoV(PUMC01) strain. Rh-ACE2 genes were amplified from all animals by reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction, and their function was studied in vitro using a pseudovirus entry assay. Many natural non-synonymous (NS) changes were found in rh-ACE2 genes. Compared to human (hu) ACE2, thirty-eight consensus NS changes were found in rh-ACE2. Since these changes do not interact with the receptor binding domain of SARS-CoV, rh-ACE2 in general is as effective as human homolog in supporting viral entry. Rh-ACE2, however, is more polymorphic than hu-ACE2. Additional sporadic NS substitutions in clone Rh11-7 reduced the level of rh-ACE2 protein expression and did not support viral entry effectively. Further mutagenesis analysis showed that a natural mutation Y217N dramatically alters ACE2 expression and entry efficiency. Moreover, introduction of the Y217N mutation into hu-ACE2 caused the down-regulation of expression and reduced viral entry efficiency. These results indicate that the Y217N mutation plays a role in modulating SARS-CoV infection. Our results provide insights for understanding the role of rh-ACE2 in SARS lung pathogenesis in a non-human primate model.

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