Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) is a zoonotic pathogen that causes respiratory infection in humans, ranging from asymptomatic to severe pneumonia. In dromedary camels, the virus only causes a mild infection but it spreads efficiently between animals. Differences in the behavior of the virus observed between individuals, as well as between humans and dromedary camels, highlight the role of host factors in MERS-CoV pathogenesis and transmission. One of these host factors, the MERS-CoV receptor dipeptidyl peptidase-4 (DPP4), may be a critical determinant because it is variably expressed in MERS-CoV-susceptible species as well as in humans. This could partially explain inter- and intraspecies differences in the tropism, pathogenesis, and transmissibility of MERS-CoV. In this review, we explore the role of DPP4 and other host factors in MERS-CoV transmission and pathogenesis—such as sialic acids, host proteases, and interferons. Further characterization of these host determinants may potentially offer novel insights to develop intervention strategies to tackle ongoing outbreaks.
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