It has recently been shown that SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) is caused by a human coronavirus. Human coronaviruses are the major cause of upper respiratory tract illness, such as the common cold, in humans. Coronaviruses are positive-stranded RNA viruses, featuring the largest viral RNA genomes known to date (27-31 kb). The first step in coronavirus infection is binding of the viral spike protein, a 139-kDa protein, to certain receptors on host cells. The spike protein is the main surface antigen of the coronavirus. The glycosilated spike protein (as well as the nucleocapsid protein) can be detected in infected cell culture supernatants with antisera from SARS patients.
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