Hahn Lab

Beirne B. Carter Center for Immunology Research
Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Cancer Biology
University of Virginia School of Medicine

Research Program

My research is focused on elucidating the immunoregulatory mechanism by Hepatitis C virus (HCV). HCV is a global health concern causing severe liver disease such as fibrosis, cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. HCV infection in humans is remarkably efficient in establishing viral persistence. T cell responses have been reported to play a pivotal role in controlling HCV infection. However, HCV-specific T cell responses are significantly impaired in chronic HCV patients. This suggests that HCV may employ numerous mechanisms to counteract or possibly suppress the host T cell responses. Recent studies in my lab demonstrate that exosomes released from HCV-infected hepatocytes display TGF-beta at the exosome surface and suppress T cell responses. Exosomes are small membrane-bound extracellular vesicles and serve as natural carriers of signaling molecules to promote cellular crosstalk. We are currently studying to identify the cellular and molecular mechanism for the role of exosomes released from HCV-infected hepatocytes in regulating the host immunity and promoting the development of liver fibrosis. A better understanding of HCV-mediated immune regulation will provide a rational basis for immunotherapeutic strategies to prevent chronic HCV infection and chronic liver diseases. Recently, we are expanding our studies for the role of exosomes in transmitting zika virus to brain and causing neuroinflammation/neurodegeneration.

Major Areas of Research

  • Define the molecular and cellular basis of HCV-associated immune dysregulation
  • Understand the mechanism of liver fibrosis and immunopathogenesis
  • Define the role of zika virus exosomes to transmit virus to the brain and promote neuroinflammation/neurodegeneration