Evolutionary arms race between virus and host drives genetic diversity in bat SARS related coronavirus spike genes
The Chinese horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus sinicus), reservoir host of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV), carries many bat SARS-related CoVs (SARSr-CoVs) with high genetic diversity, particularly in the spike gene. Despite these variations, some bat SARSr-CoVs can utilize the orthologs of human SARS-CoV receptor, angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), for entry. It is speculated that the interaction between bat ACE2 and SARSr-CoV spike proteins drives diversity. Here, we have identified a series of R. sinicus ACE2 variants with some polymorphic sites involved in the interaction with the SARS-CoV spike protein. Pseudoviruses or SARSr-CoVs carrying different spike proteins showed different infection efficiency in cells transiently expressing bat ACE2 variants. Consistent results were observed by binding affinity assays between SARS- and SARSr-CoV spike proteins and receptor molecules from bats and humans. All tested bat SARSr-CoV spike proteins had a higher binding affinity to human ACE2 than to bat ACE2, although they showed a 10-fold lower binding affinity to human ACE2 compared with their SARS-CoV counterpart. Structure modeling revealed that the difference in binding affinity between spike and ACE2 might be caused by the alteration of some key residues in the interface of these two molecules. Molecular evolution analysis indicates that these residues were under strong positive selection. These results suggest that the SARSr-CoV spike protein and R. sinicus ACE2 may have coevolved over time and experienced selection pressure from each other, triggering the evolutionary arms race dynamics. It further proves that R. sinicus is the natural host of SARSr-CoVs. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.
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