Dr. Rod Russell - October 21, 2019

Ninja Stars, and Viruses that Glow in the Dark

The main focus of the Russell Lab is to understand virus-induced programmed cell death. While working on a project aimed at studying the induction of apoptosis in cells infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV), they observed that HCV infection also causes inflammasome activation and subsequent cell death by pyroptosis, a caspase-1-mediated pro-inflammatory form of programmed cell death. The goal of their current research is to identify the mechanism by which HCV induces pyroptosis in HCV-infected and uninfected cells, and to test for in vivo relevance in mouse, woodchuck and human liver. By exploring mechanisms by which HCV induces cell death, they hope to identify points of intervention that would represent potential drug targets for the blockade of virus-induced cell death and subsequent inflammation. In addition, the Russell Lab has been developing novel methods for fluorescent visualization of viral proteins and infectious viruses. Protein imaging utilizing fluorescent microscopy relies on either the availability of a protein-specific antibody, or the ability to fuse the protein to an autofluorescent protein such as GFP. Often, it is simply impossible to generate a reliable antibody against a protein of interest, and the fusion of fluorescent proteins to a protein of interest can affect its structure, function and/or localization within the cell. As an alternate approach, Dr. Russell’s students have established a system that incorporates fluorescent unnatural amino acids into proteins in order to facilitate imaging of these proteins without the use of antibodies or tags such as GFP. The ultimate goal of this project is to incorporate fluorescent unnatural amino acids into viruses and then track them in real-time as they infect cells and move from one cell to another.



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