4512A Thomas Hall
My research focuses on interactions of flaviviruses and West Nile virus in particular with the innate immune response of the host. Flaviviruses are positive-strand RNA viruses that are predominantly transmitted through arthropod vectors. Some prominent members of the family Flaviviridae include Yellow fever virus, the dengue viruses and West Nile virus. The innate immune system is the first line of defense against invading pathogens and includes the recognition of a pathogen, the stimulation of proinflammatory cytokine production and ultimately influences the activation and orientation of the adaptive immune response. West Nile virus has evolved mechanisms to interfere with several aspects of this first response, namely by inhibiting signal transduction from the interferon receptor and by blocking signaling through Toll-like receptors, molecules involved in the recognition of pathogen specific molecular patterns. TLR engagement leads to activation of specific transcription factors and production of cytokines and/or type I interferons. These processes are inhibited in WNV-infected cells. Our research has shown that the WNV nonstructural protein NS1 can inhibit TLR signal transduction. We are currently investigating the mechanism of this inhibition as well as the potential roles of TLRs in WNV pathogenesis and induction of an adaptive response. A variety of different approaches are used in my laboratory to investigate these issues including classical molecular virology, molecular cell biology, mouse pathogenesis studies and immunological studies.
Frank Scholle was born and raised in a little-known town in southern Germany. After graduating from high school, he served his mandatory year in the army before attending the University of Tubingen as a biochemistry major. During a foreign exchange year at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (Go Heels!), he discovered that he was actually more interested in processes that harm the body (virus infections) than in those that maintain its function (general biochemistry). He decided to apply for the graduate program in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at UNC-CH and joined the laboratory of Dr. Nancy Raab-Traub, studying contributions of Epstein-Barr virus gene expression to development of nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Following completion of his dissertation in 2000 he decided to relocate for a postdoctoral position to Galveston, Texas to study hepatitis C virus biology with Dr. Stanley Lemon and followed that by switching his interest to acute viral infections, working with Dr. Peter Mason on West Nile virus-host interactions, which remains his research focus today. Anxious to escape the Texas heat, flooding and mosquitoes, Frank happily moved back to North Carolina and joined the department in July 2005. He is still very conflicted about his ACC team loyalty.