Functional and genetic analysis of viral receptor ACE2 orthologs reveals a broad potential host range of SARS-CoV-2

Academic Article


  • The pandemic of COVID-19, caused by SARS-CoV-2, is a major global health threat. Epidemiological studies suggest that bats (Rhinolophus affinis) are the natural zoonotic reservoir for SARS-CoV-2. However, the host range of SARS-CoV-2 and intermediate hosts that facilitate its transmission to humans remain unknown. The interaction of coronavirus with its host receptor is a key genetic determinant of host range and cross-species transmission. SARS-CoV-2 uses angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) as the receptor to enter host cells in a species-dependent manner. In this study, we characterized the ability of ACE2 from diverse species to support viral entry. By analyzing the conservation of five residues in two virus-binding hotspots of ACE2 (hotspot 31Lys and hotspot 353Lys), we predicted 80 ACE2 proteins from mammals that could potentially mediate SARS-CoV-2 entry. We chose 48 ACE2 orthologs among them for functional analysis, and showed that 44 of these orthologs—including domestic animals, pets, livestock, and animals commonly found in zoos and aquaria—could bind the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and support viral entry. In contrast, New World monkey ACE2 orthologs could not bind the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and support viral entry. We further identified the genetic determinant of New World monkey ACE2 that restricts viral entry using genetic and functional analyses. These findings highlight a potentially broad host tropism of SARS-CoV-2 and suggest that SARS-CoV-2 might be distributed much more widely than previously recognized, underscoring the necessity to monitor susceptible hosts to prevent future outbreaks.
  • Authors

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Liu Y; Hu G; Wang Y; Ren W; Zhao X; Ji F; Zhu Y; Feng F; Gong M; Ju X
  • Volume

  • 118
  • Issue

  • 12