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Stay Informed About James Zhijian Chen lab

Congrats Justin as the 2023 recipient of the Brown-Goldstein Award for Excellence in Postdoctoral Research and his new publication in Nature.

February 2023

Justin Jenson was selected as the 2023 recipient of the Brown-Goldstein Award for Excellence in Postdoctoral Research. Honoring the contributions of Drs. Michael S. Brown and Joseph L. Goldstein to the training of the next generation of scientists, this award is the highest honor for research accomplishment bestowed by the Graduate School on a postdoctoral research fellow. Chosen by a committee of graduate school faculty members, the winner receives a monetary prize as well as the opportunity to present the University Lecture. 

His studies, which just online in the journal Nature, reveal what appears to be a primordial innate immune mechanism and shine light on the molecular arms race in which bacteria and viruses are engaged.

Congratulations !

Zhijian “James” Chen was elected to the National Academy of Medicine

October, 2022

James was elected to the National Academy of Medicine for discovering the DNA sensing enzyme cGAS and its product cGAMP and discovering MAVS, which mediates immune defense against RNA viruses.
The molecular biology department held a reception to celebrate his election to the National Academy of Medicine.

Yan Fang received NCI F99/K00 fellowship

July, 2022

Graduate student Yan Fang just received the NCI Predoctoral to Postdoctoral Fellow Transition Award (F99/K00) which will support her for up to six years during her predoctoral and postdoctoral stages.


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Mingjian's Graduation Thesis Defense

July 22, 2021

Mingjian Du successfully deffended his dissertation titled, “Protein Liquids Convey Ultrasensitivity in Immune Signaling.” on July 22, 2021.

Congradulations, Dr. Du!

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Yan Fang received CPRIT training grant

July, 2021

Graduate Student Yan Fang has been selected to receive a CPRIT training grant.


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Chen honored with 2020 Coley Award

September 25, 2020

Dr. Chen is being honored with the Cancer Research Institute’s 2020 William B. Coley Award for Distinguished Research in Basic and Tumor Immunology

CTPlus news

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Mingjian Du received the Nominata Award.

June 2019

Graduate student Mingjian Du was recently awarded the highest honor bestowed by the UT Southwestern Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences – the Nominata Award.

CTPlus news


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Zhijian “James” Chen, Ph.D., selected to receive Breakthrough Prize

January 23, 2019

Dr.Chen received the 2019 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences for elucidating how DNA triggers immune and autoimmune responses from the interior of a cell through the discovery of the DNA-sensing enzyme cGAS.

breakthroughprize announcement

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A Paper by Siqi is published in Science

January 2015

Siqi's paper on phosphorylation of adaptor proteins induces IRF3 phosphorylation was recently published as Science Research Article.

Phosphorylation of innate immune adaptor proteins MAVS, STING, and TRIF induces IRF3 activation

Congrats to Siqi and all those involved in the project.

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Zhijian "James" Chen is elected to the National Academy of Sciences

April 29, 2014

From President Podolsky:

"April 29, 2014

 To the UT Southwestern Community:

 Please join me in congratulating our colleague Zhijian “James” Chen, Ph.D., Professor of Molecular Biology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, on his election, which was announced this morning, to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), one of the highest honors attainable by a scientist.

 Dr. Chen has been a pioneer in deciphering the mechanisms of cell signaling, inflammation, and innate immunity – the body’s first, generalized response to infection. Early in his career, he uncovered a new, unexpected role for ubiquitin, a small protein, showing that it activates other proteins important to growth regulation and other essential cellular functions.

 In other work, he found that the cell’s energy-producing bodies, the mitochondria, contribute to the body’s immune response and identified MAVS, the first beneficial prion found in humans.

 His recent discoveries have provided profound new insights into cellular responses to viral infection and may pave the way for more effective treatments. His work has revolutionized our understanding of fundamental cellular mechanisms of disease and has revealed new targets for drug development to fight infection by common viruses such as hepatitis C, West Nile, and influenza.

 Dr. Chen holds the George L. MacGregor Distinguished Chair in Biomedical Science as a member of the Department of Molecular Biology. He also is a member of UT Southwestern’s Center for the Genetics of Host Defense.

 With Dr. Chen’s election, UT Southwestern Medical Center now has 21 members of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences on its faculty. This number gives UT Southwestern the distinction of being among the top group of leading academic medical centers with the most NAS members."

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Functional prions in innate immune signaling

April 2014

Xin's paper on prion-like polymerization of MAVS and ASC in cell signaling was recently published by Cell.

Congrats to Xin, Randal, James and all those involved in the project.

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A Paper by Hui Xu is published in eLife

February 2014

In today's eLife, Hui and colleagues published a paper on MAVS filaments.

We report cryo-electron microscopic structures of the helical filaments formed by both the N-terminal caspase activation and recruitment domain (CARD) of MAVS and a truncated MAVS lacking part of the proline-rich region and the C-terminal transmembrane domain. Both structures are left-handed three-stranded helical filaments, revealing specific interfaces between individual CARD subunits that are dictated by electrostatic interactions between neighboring strands and hydrophobic interactions within each strand. Super-resolution imaging of virus-infected cells revealed rod-shaped MAVS clusters on mitochondria. These results elucidate the structural mechanism of MAVS polymerization, and explain how an α-helical domain uses distinct chemical interactions to form self-perpetuating filaments.

Structural basis for the prion-like MAVS filaments in antiviral innate immunity.

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DNA sensor cGAS fends off viral infection

August 2013

On today's Science Express, a paper by Xiao-Dong Li and Jiaxi Wu demonstrated that cGAS-cGAMP pathway plays pivotal roles in antiviral defense and immune adjuvant effects.

Pivotal Roles of cGAS-cGAMP Signaling in Antiviral Defense and Immune Adjuvant Effects.

Congratulations to Xiao-Dong, Jiaxi, Daxing, Hua, Josh and James!

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A Paper by Siqi Liu And Jueqi Chen Is Published on eLife

August 2013

On today's eLife, a paper by Siqi Liu and Jueqi Chen demonstrated that MAVS recruits multiple ubiquitin E3 ligases to activate antiviral signaling cascades.

MAVS recruits multiple ubiquitin E3 ligases to activate antiviral signaling cascades.

Congratulations to Siqi, Jueqi, Xin, Jiaxi, Xiang, You-Tong, Josh and James!

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A Paper by Daxing Gao Is Published in Science

August 2013

On today's Science Express, a paper by Daxing Gao, demonstrated that cGAS is the immune sensor for HIV and other retroviruses.

Summary: Retroviruses, including HIV, can activate innate immune responses, but the host sensors for retroviruses are largely unknown. Here, we show that HIV infection activates cyclic-GMP–AMP (cGAMP) synthase (cGAS) to produce cGAMP, which binds to and activates the adaptor protein STING to induce type-I interferons and other cytokines. Inhibitors of HIV reverse transcriptase, but not integrase, abrogated interferon-β induction by the virus, suggesting that the reverse transcribed HIV DNA triggers the innate immune response. Knockout or knockdown of cGAS in mouse or human cell lines blocked cytokine induction by HIV, murine leukemia virus (MLV), and simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV). These results indicate that cGAS is an innate immune sensor of HIV and other retroviruses.

Cyclic GMP-AMP Synthase Is an Innate Immune Sensor of HIV and Other Retroviruses

Congratulations to Daxing, Jiaxi, You-Tong, Fenghe, Josh and James!

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Activation of STING by Endogenous cGAMP

June 2013

In a paper published online in Molecular Cell on June 3rd, 2013, we report the identification of a cyclic GMP-AMP isomer containing both 2’-5’ and 3’-5’ phosphodiester linkages (2'3'-cGAMP) as the endogenous second messenger generated by the cytosolic DNA sensor cGAS. Further, we solve the crystal structure of STING bound to the cGAS product, which explains the high affinity interaction between STING and 2’3’-cGAMP, and reveals a ligand-induced conformational change of STING that may underlie its activation. For details see:

Cyclic GMP-AMP Containing Mixed Phosphodiester Linkages Is An Endogenous High-Affinity Ligand for STING

Congratulations to Xu, Heping, Jiaxi, Xuewu, Josh, Chuo and James!

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Two Papers by Lijun Sun and Jiaxi Wu Are Published In Science

December 2012

Two papers describing the identification of cGAMP (cyclic-GMP-AMP) and cGAS (cyclic-GMP-AMP synthase) as important cytosolic DNA sensing mediators are published today by Science.


Cyclic-GMP-AMP Is An Endogenous Second Messenger in Innate Immune Signaling by Cytosolic DNA.

Cyclic GMP-AMP Synthase is a Cytosolic DNA Sensor that Activates the Type-I Interferon Pathway.

Congratulations to Josh, Jiaxi, Fenghe, Xiang and James!

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Siqi Liu Defended Her Dissertation

December 2012

Siqi Liu successfully defended her dissertation "Dissection of Cytosolic Antiviral Signaling Pathway" on Dec. 12th 2012.
She has become Dr. Liu.

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Xiao-Dong Li's Paper Is Published In eLife

October 2012

Dr. Xiao-Dong Li identified that Toll-like receptor 13 (TLR13) detects a 13-nucleotide specific sequence within the bacterial 23S ribosomal RNA (rRNA) and induce interleukin-1b production.

The paper describing these discoveries is published in the eLife.

Sequence specific detection of bacterial 23S ribosomal RNA by TLR13.

Congratulations to Xiao-Dong and James!

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Xin Cai Wins HHMI Fellowship

July 2012

Graduate student Xin Cai was recently awarded a prestigious International Student Research Fellowship by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The fellowship was awarded to 50 graduate students from 19 countries; Xin was one of three UT Southwestern Medical Center students receiving the fellowship. 

HHMI Announcement

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Zhijian "James" Chen wins 2012 NAS Award in Molecular Biology

February 2012

Zhijian "James" Chen was awarded the 2012 National Academy of Sciences Award in Molecular Biology. The award recognizes "a recent notable discovery in molecular biology" by an American scientist under age 45.
The Academy recognized "his creative use of elegant biochemistry both in elucidating an unsuspected role for polyubiquitin in a kinase signaling cascade important for cancer and immunity and in discovering a novel link between innate immunity and a mitochondrial membrane protein that forms prion-like polymers to trigger antiviral responses."

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