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Molecular Pathogenesis of Coronavirus

David Brian
D.V.M., Michigan State University
Ph.D., Michigan State University
Faculty Web Page


Coronavirus infections cause costly respiratory and gastroenteric diseases in livestock and fowl, and chronic, disabling diseases in humans.

Efforts to control coronavirus infections have been frustrated by an incomplete understanding of how coronaviruses replicate, the ability of coronaviruses to rapidly mutate into new pathogenic variants, and animals’ generally weak immune response to coronavirus vaccination.

The primary research focus in Dr. Brian’s laboratory concerns the molecular events that occur during coronavirus replication, particularly the cis- and trans-acting factors involved in the regulation of RNA regulation and gene transcription.

Cis-acting RNA elements required for the replication of a virus with an RNA genome are unique for any given virus family, and function by interacting with viral and cellular proteins in specific ways. These specific protein-genome interactions are potential sites of engineered drug design.

Dr. Brian continues to be at the forefront of the international scientific community’s effort to understand severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, a member of the coronavirus family. The SARS coronavirus is in many respects closely related to the bovine coronavirus.

Dr. Brian’s group has been studying the cis-acting elements of RNA replication of the SARS virus in the context of bovine coronavirus molecules. They have recently identified three cis-acting replication elements of the bovine coronavirus, and are currently working to identify the specific proteins that interact with these elements, and to characterize the interactions.

Dr. Brian’s laboratory has received national and international recognition for discoveries of a fundamental nature regarding the molecular biology of viruses. Dr. Brian continues to make significant progress toward understanding how specific genetic elements in the coronavirus function to regulate the production of viral proteins and progeny.

Results from Dr. Brian’s studies could significantly impact the design of new therapeutic drugs.

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