Serological Screening for Coronavirus Infections in Cats

 

Abstract

Coronaviruses (CoVs) are widespread among mammals and birds and known for their potential for cross-species transmission. In cats, infections with feline coronaviruses (FCoVs) are common. Several non-feline coronaviruses have been reported to infect feline cells as well as cats after experimental infection, supported by their ability to engage the feline receptor ortholog for cell entry. However, whether cats might become naturally infected with CoVs of other species is unknown. We analyzed coronavirus infections in cats by serological monitoring. In total 137 cat serum samples and 25 FCoV type 1 or type 2-specific antisera were screened for the presence of antibodies against the S1 receptor binding subunit of the CoV spike protein, which is immunogenic and possesses low amino acid sequence identity among coronavirus species. Seventy-eight sera were positive for antibodies that recognized one or more coronavirus S1s whereas 1 serum exclusively reacted with human coronavirus 229E (HCoV-229E) and two sera exclusively reacted with porcine delta coronavirus (PDCoV). We observed antigenic cross-reactivity between S1s of type 1 and type 2 FCoVs, and between FCoV type 1 and porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV). Domain mapping of antibody epitopes indicated the presence of conserved epitope(s) particularly in the CD domains of S1. The cross-reactivity of FCoV type 1 and PEDV was also observed at the level of virus neutralization. To conclude, we provide the first evidence of antigenic cross-reactivity among S1 proteins of coronaviruses, which should be considered in the development of serological diagnoses. In addition, the potential role of cats in cross-species transmission of coronaviruses cannot be excluded.

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