It has recently been shown that SARS is caused by a human coronavirus. Human coronaviruses are the major cause of upper respiratory tract illness in humans, such as the common cold. 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 most prominent protein in the culture supernatants infected with SARS virus is a 46 kDa nucleocapsid protein. This suggests that the nucleocapsid protein is a major immunogen that may be useful for early diagnostics.
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