Background: Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (. MERS-CoV) is an emerging pathogen that causes lower respiratory tract infection in humans. Camels are the likely animal source for zoonotic infection, although exact transmission modes remain to be determined. Human-to-human transmission occurs sporadically. The wide geographic distribution of MERS-CoV among dromedary camels and ongoing transmissions to humans provides concern for the evolution of a MERS-CoV variant with efficient human-to-human transmission capabilities. Phylogenetic analysis of MERS-CoV has occurred by analysis of full-length genomes or multiple concatenated genome fragments, which is time-consuming, costly and limited to high viral load samples. Objective: To develop a simple, reliable MERS-CoV variant typing assay to facilitate monitoring of MERS-CoV diversity in animals and humans. Study Design: Phylogenetic analysis of presently known full-length MERS-CoV genomes was performed to identify genomic regions with sufficient phylogenetic content to allow reliable MERS-CoV variant typing. RT-PCR assays targeting these regions were designed and optimized. Results: A reverse-transcription PCR assay for MERS-CoV targeting a 615. bp spike fragment provides a phylogenetic clustering of MERS-CoV variants comparable to that of full-length genomes. The detection limit corresponds to a cycle treshold value of ~35 with standard upE real time PCR assays on RNA isolated from MERS-CoV EMC. Nasal swabs from RT-PCR positive camels (Ct values 12.9-32.2) yielded reliable sequence information in 14 samples. Conclusions: We developed a simple, reliable MERS-CoV variant typing assay which is crucial in monitoring MERS-CoV circulation in real time with relatively little investment on location.

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Journal of Clinical Virology
Department of Virology

Smits, S., Raj, S., Pas, S., Reusken, C., Mohran, K. A., Farag, E., … Koopmans, M., D.V.M. (2015). Reliable typing of MERS-CoV variants with a small genome fragment. Journal of Clinical Virology, 64, 83–87. doi:10.1016/j.jcv.2014.12.006