Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

About the PNAS Member Editor
Name Chen, Zhijian (James)
Location The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
Primary Field Immunology and Inflammation
Secondary Field Biochemistry
 Election Citation
Chen, an accomplished biochemist, discovered three new aspects of innate immunity: ubiquitin-mediated activation of protein kinases in the NFKB pathway; mitochondrial regulation of antiviral immune responses via prion-like polymerization of MAVS; a second messenger signaling system (cyclic GMP-AMP; generated by cGAMP synthase) for detection of cytosolic DNA and interferon production.
 Research Interests
Zhijian 'James' Chen's laboratory is interested in the mechanisms of cell signaling, inflammation and innate immunity. Using classical biochemical fractionation and reconstitution, his lab has discovered several new mechanisms and signaling pathways that are important for animal cells to defend against microbial infections and other noxious insults. They found that the protein ubiquitin, which is best known for targeting protein degradation, plays an important role in activating protein kinases in inflammatory pathways through a proteolysis-independent mechanism. They discovered the mitochondrial protein MAVS and delineated its role and mechanism in immune defense against RNA virus infections. More recently, the Chen lab discovered the enzyme cyclic GMP-AMP synthase (cGAS) and showed that it is the cytosolic DNA sensor that activates the host immune system by producing a novel second messenger, cyclic GMP-AMP (cGAMP). They are further dissecting the MAVS and cGAS-cGAMP pathways with the goal of developing new agents for the treatment or prevention of infectious diseases, autoimmune diseases and cancer.

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