Professor, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Professor of Graduate Studies
Molecular Oncology & Biomarkers ProgramGeorgia Cancer Center 1410 Laney-Walker Blvd. Office: CN-3143
The scope of my research includes studies on immune regulation, microbial (viral) pathogenesis, and inflammation as well as studies on protein homeostasis and molecular chaperone biology/function in cancer promotion and the progression of neurodegenerative diseases. These are areas of great medical importance, and there is reasonable expectation that this research will continue to provide the rationale to develop novel strategies to prevent, and perhaps more effectively treat, viral infectious diseases as well as patients with cancer and with age-related neurodegenerative diseases.
The primary focus of research in my laboratory, over the past two decades, has been to investigate microbial (viral) pathogenesis and immunology/inflammation, as well as mechanisms of protein homeostasis and molecular chaperone biology. In addition to elucidating basic mechanisms of viral pathogenesis, a major focus of our research is on the mechanisms of chaperone-mediated cancer promotion. These are areas of great medical importance, and there is reasonable expectation that this research will continue to provide the rationale to develop novel strategies to prevent, and perhaps more effectively treat, viral infectious diseases and cancer. The specific research areas can be summarized as follows:
Function of molecular chaperones and heat shock transcription factors in mouse models
of human diseases (cancer)
This research area involves the study of cellular processes via which molecular chaperones mediate the host response to environmental stress and the role of these processes in human diseases such as cancer. One approach has focused on studying the function of these molecules in knockout mouse models. In my laboratory, the development and functional analyses of several conditional knockout mouse models – including the major members of the HSP70 and HSP90 families in the endoplasmic reticulum (GRP78, GRP170, SIL1, GRP94), cytoplasm (HSP70, HSC70, HSP25), and mitochondria (GRP75) – provide important materials for innovative research in the cancer biology field. Although several studies are in progress, publications from my laboratory on the functional characterization in situ of the stress-induced HSP70 and HSP25 chaperone proteins rank among the important contributions to chaperone and cancer biology research. Another important contribution was our discovery that the ability of HSF1 to promote malignant cell transformation resides in its ability to stimulate transcription of mRNAs that encode proteins regulating adaptive energetic and metabolic pathways. Targeting inactivation of HSF1 interferes with the anabolic malignant state and is an effective strategy for prevention and therapy of several cancer types. Notably, this important research is the result of a long-term collaboration with Dr. N. Mivechi at the Georgia Cancer Center.
Deciphering the fundamental mechanisms coordinating the immune response to acute versus
persistent viral infections and the implications in cancer immune evasion
Persistent viral infections create conditions for long-term pathologic consequences in human populations. A specific focus of my laboratory has been to elucidate the mechanisms by which viruses persist and escape immune surveillance. This research is important for our understanding of viral pathogenesis and for the development of measures to control and eliminate such infections and the diseases they cause. Our original observations) have provided proof-of-concept that:
Viruses persist in an immune population, as in the case of influenza, or in an individual, as postulated for HIV, when they are able to escape neutralizing antibodies by changing their antigens. This has been known since the original discovery in the 1980s that revealed that the evolution of influenza viruses is associated with the generation of antibody-resistant viral strains. We made the original discovery that viruses can escape surveillance by virus-specific T cells through introducing mutations in their genomes that alter the presentation of antigen-specific T cell epitopes. Since T cell-mediated immunity represents a critical defense mechanism of the host against microbial infections, this discovery has profoundly influenced our understanding about the evolution of microbial pathogens. Notably, antigenic variation, the rapid acquisition of latency in the infected host, and acute immune suppression, are features of many persistent viral infections.
Junfeng Pang, Ph.D.