Education & Certifications

  • Doctor, Chinese Academy of Science, Biology (2013)


All Publications

  • Zika Virus Infection Leads to Variable Defects in Multiple Neurological Functions and Behaviors in Mice and Children ADVANCED SCIENCE Zhao, Z., Shang, Z., Vasconcelos, Z., Li, C., Jiang, Y., Zu, S., Zhang, J., Wang, F., Yao, L., Jung, J. U., Brasil, P., Moreira, M., Qin, C., Kerin, T., Nielsen-Saines, K., Cheng, G., Zhang, X., Xu, Z. 2020
  • Azithromycin Protects against Zika virus Infection by Upregulating virus-induced Type I and III Interferon Responses. Antimicrobial agents and chemotherapy Li, C., Zu, S., Deng, Y., Li, D., Parvatiyar, K., Quanquin, N., Shang, J., Sun, N., Su, J., Liu, Z., Wang, M., Aliyari, S. R., Li, X., Wu, A., Ma, F., Shi, Y., Nielsevn-Saines, K., Jung, J. U., Qin, F. X., Qin, C., Cheng, G. 2019


    Azithromycin (AZM) is a widely used antibiotic, with additional antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties that remain poorly understood. Although Zika virus (ZIKV) poses a significant threat to global health, there are currently no vaccines or effective therapeutics against it. Herein, we report that AZM effectively suppresses ZIKV infection in vitro by targeting a late stage in the viral life cycle. Besides that, AZM upregulates the expression of host type I and III interferons and several of their downstream interferon-stimulated genes (ISGs) in response to ZIKV infection. In particular, we found that AZM upregulates the expression of MDA5 and RIG-I, pathogen recognition receptors (PRRs) induced by ZIKV infection, and increases the levels of phosphorylated TBK1 and IRF3. Interestingly, AZM treatment upregulates phosphorylation of TBK1, without inducing phosphorylation of IRF3 by itself. These findings highlight the potential use of AZM as a broad antiviral agent to combat viral infection and prevent ZIKV associated devastating clinical outcomes, such as congenital microcephaly.

    View details for DOI 10.1128/AAC.00394-19

    View details for PubMedID 31527024

  • Development of a chimeric Zika vaccine using a licensed live-attenuated flavivirus vaccine as backbone NATURE COMMUNICATIONS Li, X., Dong, H., Wang, H., Huang, X., Qiu, Y., Ji, X., Ye, Q., Li, C., Liu, Y., Deng, Y., Jiang, T., Cheng, G., Zhang, F., Davidson, A. D., Song, Y., Shi, P., Qin, C. 2018; 9: 673


    The global spread of Zika virus (ZIKV) and its unexpected association with congenital defects necessitates the rapid development of a safe and effective vaccine. Here we report the development and characterization of a recombinant chimeric ZIKV vaccine candidate (termed ChinZIKV) that expresses the prM-E proteins of ZIKV using the licensed Japanese encephalitis live-attenuated vaccine SA14-14-2 as the genetic backbone. ChinZIKV retains its replication activity and genetic stability in vitro, while exhibiting an attenuation phenotype in multiple animal models. Remarkably, immunization of mice and rhesus macaques with a single dose of ChinZIKV elicits robust and long-lasting immune responses, and confers complete protection against ZIKV challenge. Significantly, female mice immunized with ChinZIKV are protected against placental and fetal damage upon ZIKV challenge during pregnancy. Overall, our study provides an alternative vaccine platform in response to the ZIKV emergency, and the safety, immunogenicity, and protection profiles of ChinZIKV warrant further clinical development.

    View details for PubMedID 29445153

  • Zika virus shedding in the stool and infection through the anorectal mucosa in mice. Emerging microbes & infections Li, C., Deng, Y. Q., Zu, S., Quanquin, N., Shang, J., Tian, M., Ji, X., Zhang, N. N., Dong, H. L., Xu, Y. P., Zhao, L. Z., Zhang, F. C., Li, X. F., Wu, A., Cheng, G., Qin, C. F. 2018; 7 (1): 169


    Zika virus (ZIKV) has elicited global concern due to its unique biological features, unusual transmission routes, and unexpected clinical outcomes. Although ZIKV transmission through anal intercourse has been reported in humans, it remains unclear if ZIKV is detectable in the stool, if it can infect the host through the anal canal mucosa, and what the pathogenesis of such a route of infection might be in the mouse model. Herein, we demonstrate that ZIKV RNA can be recovered from stools in multiple mouse models, as well as from the stool of a ZIKV patient. Remarkably, intra-anal (i.a.) inoculation with ZIKV leads to efficient infection in both Ifnar1-/- and immunocompetent mice, characterized by extensive viral replication in the blood and multiple organs, including the brain, small intestine, testes, and rectum, as well as robust humoral and innate immune responses. Moreover, i.a. inoculation of ZIKV in pregnant mice resulted in transplacental infection and delayed fetal development. Overall, our results identify the anorectal mucosa as a potential site of ZIKV infection in mice, reveal the associated pathogenesis of i.a. infection, and highlight the complexity of ZIKV transmission through anal intercourse.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/s41426-018-0170-6

    View details for PubMedID 30333476

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC6193040

  • Treatment of Human Glioblastoma with a Live Attenuated Zika Virus Vaccine Candidate. mBio Chen, Q., Wu, J., Ye, Q., Ma, F., Zhu, Q., Wu, Y., Shan, C., Xie, X., Li, D., Zhan, X., Li, C., Li, X. F., Qin, X., Zhao, T., Wu, H., Shi, P. Y., Man, J., Qin, C. F. 2018; 9 (5)


    Glioblastoma (GBM) is the deadliest type of brain tumor, and glioma stem cells (GSCs) contribute to tumor recurrence and therapeutic resistance. Thus, an oncolytic virus targeting GSCs may be useful for improving GBM treatment. Because Zika virus (ZIKV) has an oncolytic tropism for infecting GSCs, we investigated the safety and efficacy of a live attenuated ZIKV vaccine candidate (ZIKV-LAV) for the treatment of human GBM in a GSC-derived orthotopic model. Intracerebral injection of ZIKV-LAV into mice caused no neurological symptoms or behavioral abnormalities. The neurovirulence of ZIKV-LAV was more attenuated than that of the licensed Japanese encephalitis virus LAV 14-14-2, underlining the superior safety of ZIKV-LAV for potential GBM treatment. Importantly, ZIKV-LAV significantly reduced intracerebral tumor growth and prolonged animal survival by selectively killing GSCs within the tumor. Mechanistically, ZIKV infection elicited antiviral immunity, inflammation, and GSC apoptosis. Together, these results further support the clinical development of ZIKV-LAV for GBM therapy.IMPORTANCE Glioblastoma (GBM), the deadliest type of brain tumor, is currently incurable because of its high recurrence rate after traditional treatments, including surgery to remove the main part of the tumor and radiation and chemotherapy to target residual tumor cells. These treatments fail mainly due to the presence of a cell subpopulation called glioma stem cells (GSCs), which are resistant to radiation and chemotherapy and capable of self-renewal and tumorigenicity. Because Zika virus (ZIKV) has an oncolytic tropism for infecting GSCs, we tested a live attenuated ZIKV vaccine candidate (ZIKV-LAV) for the treatment of human GBM in a human GSC-derived orthotopic model. Our results showed that ZIKV-LAV retained good efficacy against glioblastoma by selectively killing GSCs within the tumor. In addition, ZIKV-LAV exhibited an excellent safety profile upon intracerebral injection into the treated animals. The good balance between the safety of ZIKV-LAV and its efficacy against human GSCs suggests that it is a potential candidate for combination with the current treatment regimen for GBM therapy.

    View details for DOI 10.1128/mBio.01683-18

    View details for PubMedID 30228241

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC6143740

  • E90 subunit vaccine protects mice from Zika virus infection and microcephaly. Acta neuropathologica communications Zhu, X., Li, C., Afridi, S. K., Zu, S., Xu, J. W., Quanquin, N., Yang, H., Cheng, G., Xu, Z. 2018; 6 (1): 77


    Zika virus (ZIKV) became a global threat due to its unprecedented outbreak and its association with congenital malformations such as microcephaly in developing fetuses and neonates. There are currently no effective vaccines or drugs available for the prevention or treatment of ZIKV infection. Although multiple vaccine platforms have been established, their effectiveness in preventing congenital microcephaly has not been addressed. Herein, we tested a subunit vaccine containing the 450 amino acids at the N-terminus of the ZIKV envelope protein (E90) in mouse models for either in utero or neonatal ZIKV infection. In one model, embryos of vaccinated dams were challenged with a contemporary ZIKV strain at embryonic day 13.5. The other model infects neonatal mice from vaccinated dams by direct injection of ZIKV into the developing brains. The vaccine led to a substantial reduction of ZIKV-infected cells measured in the brains of fetal or suckling mice, and successfully prevented the onset of microcephaly compared to unvaccinated controls. Furthermore, E90 could protect mice from ZIKV infection even at 140 days post-immunization. This work directly demonstrates that immunization of pregnant mice protects the developing brains of offspring both in utero and in the neonatal period from subsequent ZIKV infection and microcephaly. It also supports the further development of the E90 subunit vaccine towards clinical trials.

    View details for DOI 10.1186/s40478-018-0572-7

    View details for PubMedID 30097059

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC6086021

  • 25-Hydroxycholesterol Protects Host against Zika Virus Infection and Its Associated Microcephaly in a Mouse Model. Immunity Li, C., Deng, Y. Q., Wang, S., Ma, F., Aliyari, R., Huang, X. Y., Zhang, N. N., Watanabe, M., Dong, H. L., Liu, P., Li, X. F., Ye, Q., Tian, M., Hong, S., Fan, J., Zhao, H., Li, L., Vishlaghi, N., Buth, J. E., Au, C., Liu, Y., Lu, N., Du, P., Qin, F. X., Zhang, B., Gong, D., Dai, X., Sun, R., Novitch, B. G., Xu, Z., Qin, C. F., Cheng, G. 2017; 46 (3): 446–56


    Zika virus (ZIKV) has become a public health threat due to its global transmission and link to severe congenital disorders. The host immune responses to ZIKV infection have not been fully elucidated, and effective therapeutics are not currently available. Herein, we demonstrated that cholesterol-25-hydroxylase (CH25H) was induced in response to ZIKV infection and that its enzymatic product, 25-hydroxycholesterol (25HC), was a critical mediator of host protection against ZIKV. Synthetic 25HC addition inhibited ZIKV infection in vitro by blocking viral entry, and treatment with 25HC reduced viremia and conferred protection against ZIKV in mice and rhesus macaques. 25HC suppressed ZIKV infection and reduced tissue damage in human cortical organoids and the embryonic brain of the ZIKV-induced mouse microcephaly model. Our findings highlight the protective role of CH25H during ZIKV infection and the potential use of 25HC as a natural antiviral agent to combat ZIKV infection and prevent ZIKV-associated outcomes, such as microcephaly.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.immuni.2017.02.012

    View details for PubMedID 28314593

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5957489

  • Chloroquine, a FDA-approved Drug, Prevents Zika Virus Infection and its Associated Congenital Microcephaly in Mice. EBioMedicine Li, C., Zhu, X., Ji, X., Quanquin, N., Deng, Y. Q., Tian, M., Aliyari, R., Zuo, X., Yuan, L., Afridi, S. K., Li, X. F., Jung, J. U., Nielsen-Saines, K., Qin, F. X., Qin, C. F., Xu, Z., Cheng, G. 2017; 24: 189–94


    Zika virus (ZIKV) has become a global public health emergency due to its rapidly expanding range and its ability to cause severe congenital defects such as microcephaly. However, there are no FDA-approved therapies or vaccines against ZIKV infection. Through our screening of viral entry inhibitors, we found that chloroquine (CQ), a commonly used antimalarial and a FDA-approved drug that has also been repurposed against other pathogens, could significantly inhibit ZIKV infection in vitro, by blocking virus internalization. We also demonstrated that CQ attenuates ZIKV-associated morbidity and mortality in mice. Finally, we proved that CQ protects fetal mice from microcephaly caused by ZIKV infection. Our methodology of focusing on previously identified antivirals in screens for effectiveness against ZIKV proved to be a rapid and efficient means of discovering new ZIKV therapeutics. Selecting drugs that were previously FDA-approved, such as CQ, also improves the likelihood that they may more quickly reach stages of clinical testing and use by the public.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.ebiom.2017.09.034

    View details for PubMedID 29033372

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5652284

  • Screening for Novel Small-Molecule Inhibitors Targeting the Assembly of Influenza Virus Polymerase Complex by a Bimolecular Luminescence Complementation-Based Reporter System. Journal of virology Li, C., Wang, Z., Cao, Y., Wang, L., Ji, J., Chen, Z., Deng, T., Jiang, T., Cheng, G., Qin, F. X. 2017; 91 (5)


    Influenza virus RNA-dependent RNA polymerase consists of three viral protein subunits: PA, PB1, and PB2. Protein-protein interactions (PPIs) of these subunits play pivotal roles in assembling the functional polymerase complex, which is essential for the replication and transcription of influenza virus RNA. Here we developed a highly specific and robust bimolecular luminescence complementation (BiLC) reporter system to facilitate the investigation of influenza virus polymerase complex formation. Furthermore, by combining computational modeling and the BiLC reporter assay, we identified several novel small-molecule compounds that selectively inhibited PB1-PB2 interaction. Function of one such lead compound was confirmed by its activity in suppressing influenza virus replication. In addition, our studies also revealed that PA plays a critical role in enhancing interactions between PB1 and PB2, which could be important in targeting sites for anti-influenza intervention. Collectively, these findings not only aid the development of novel inhibitors targeting the formation of influenza virus polymerase complex but also present a new tool to investigate the exquisite mechanism of PPIs. IMPORTANCE Formation of the functional influenza virus polymerase involves complex protein-protein interactions (PPIs) of PA, PB1, and PB2 subunits. In this work, we developed a novel BiLC assay system which is sensitive and specific to quantify both strong and weak PPIs between influenza virus polymerase subunits. More importantly, by combining in silico modeling and our BiLC assay, we identified a small molecule that can suppress influenza virus replication by disrupting the polymerase assembly. Thus, we developed an innovative method to investigate PPIs of multisubunit complexes effectively and to identify new molecules inhibiting influenza virus polymerase assembly.

    View details for DOI 10.1128/JVI.02282-16

    View details for PubMedID 28031371

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5309938

  • Integrating computational modeling and functional assays to decipher the structure-function relationship of influenza virus PB1 protein. Scientific reports Li, C., Wu, A., Peng, Y., Wang, J., Guo, Y., Chen, Z., Zhang, H., Wang, Y., Dong, J., Wang, L., Qin, F. X., Cheng, G., Deng, T., Jiang, T. 2014; 4: 7192


    The influenza virus PB1 protein is the core subunit of the heterotrimeric polymerase complex (PA, PB1 and PB2) in which PB1 is responsible for catalyzing RNA polymerization and binding to the viral RNA promoter. Among the three subunits, PB1 is the least known subunit so far in terms of its structural information. In this work, by integrating template-based structural modeling approach with all known sequence and functional information about the PB1 protein, we constructed a modeled structure of PB1. Based on this model, we performed mutagenesis analysis for the key residues that constitute the RNA template binding and catalytic (TBC) channel in an RNP reconstitution system. The results correlated well with the model and further identified new residues of PB1 that are critical for RNA synthesis. Moreover, we derived 5 peptides from the sequence of PB1 that form the TBC channel and 4 of them can inhibit the viral RNA polymerase activity. Interestingly, we found that one of them named PB1(491-515) can inhibit influenza virus replication by disrupting viral RNA promoter binding activity of polymerase. Therefore, this study has not only deepened our understanding of structure-function relationship of PB1, but also promoted the development of novel therapeutics against influenza virus.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/srep07192

    View details for PubMedID 25424584

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4244630

  • A peptide derived from the C-terminus of PB1 inhibits influenza virus replication by interfering with viral polymerase assembly. The FEBS journal Li, C., Ba, Q., Wu, A., Zhang, H., Deng, T., Jiang, T. 2013; 280 (4): 1139–49


    Efficient assembly of the influenza virus RNA-dependent RNA polymerase, a heterotrimeric complex formed by three subunits (PA, PB1 and PB2) is critical for virus replication and pathogenicity. Therefore, interfering with the assembly of the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase complex could offer novel and effective anti-influenza therapeutics. In the present study, we show that a short peptide derived from amino acids 731-757 of PB1 (PB1(731-757)) can disrupt the interaction between the C-terminal part of PB1 (denoted as PB1c corresponding to PB1(676-757)) and the N-terminal part of PB2 (denoted as PB2n corresponding to PB2(1-40) ). We further show that PB1(731-757) is capable of inhibiting viral polymerase activity and viral replication. Interestingly, we find that PB1(731-757) interacts with PB1c rather than PB2n. Furthermore, mutational analyses show that the hydrophobic sites of PB1c play an essential role in the PB1c-PB1(731-757) interaction. The characterization of the inhibitory effect of PB1(731-757) on viral polymerase activity and viral replication could offer a potential target for anti-influenza drug development.

    View details for DOI 10.1111/febs.12107

    View details for PubMedID 23279951

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