Research Highlights

Cell receptor for aggressive coronavirus pinpointed

Published online 15 March 2013

Hazem Zohny

An emerging respiratory virus, a variety of the species hopping coronavirus behind the global SARS outbreak in 2003, known as hCoV-EMC and first identified in Saudi Arabia leads to multi-organ failure and high morality rates. So far, it has infected 13 people in different countries, with over half of them dying due to severe respiratory illness in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan and the United Kingdom.

Researchers have identified a cell surface receptor dipeptidyl peptidase 4 (DPP4) conserved across species, including humans and bats, to which hCoV-EMC binds to win entry into human cells. They publish their discovery in this week's Nature.

The identification of DPP4, present in many species, as a possible entry receptor for the virus can suggest clues to the host range of the new strain. The authors suggest that a bat origin for the virus may be feasible.

The research team, including Ali Zaki from Saudi Arabia's Dr Soliman Fakeeh Hospital, Saudi Arabia, also demonstrated that blocking the DPP4 receptor with specific antibodies prevented hCoV-EMC from infecting human cells found in the lungs and airways.

The study's authors suggest that preventing hCoV-EMC from binding to DPP4 may lead to specific therapies that can stop infection.


  1. Raj, V., Huihui, M., Smits, S. et al. Dipeptidyl peptidase 4 is a functional receptor for the emerging human coronavirus-EMC. Nature 495, 251-254 (2013) doi:10.1038/nature12005 | Article | PubMed |