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Brian Wigdahl

Brian Wigdahl, PhD

Professor and Chair; Director, Institute for Molecular Medicine and Infectious Disease

Department: Microbiology & Immunology


  • PhD - Medical College of Wisconsin (1980)

Dr. Wigdahl is professor and chair of the Department of Microbiology & Immunology at Drexel University College of Medicine.

Research Overview

Junior faculty: Vanessa Pirrone, PhD, William Dampier, PhD, Shendra Passic, MS

Graduate students: Robert Link (5th-year PhD), Theodore Gurrola (3rd-year PhD)

Research Interests

Immunopathogenesis and neuropathogenesis of HIV-1 and HTLV-I infection; transcriptional regulation of retroviral expression; viral sequence diversity and correlations to disease; development of microbicidal agents


Retroviruses have been implicated as causative agents in immunologic dysfunction, malignancy, and a number of progressive neurologic disorders. The overall goal of the research program is to identify molecular mechanisms involved in the pathogenesis of these viral pathogens and to develop strategies to diagnose, prevent, and treat human disease caused by these devastating agents. Ongoing research is focused in three major programmatic areas utilizing molecular, cellular, and modeling technologies involving:

  1. Protein structure and function studies using fluorescence-activated flow cytometry, laser capture and deconvolution fluorescence microscopy
  2. Molecular genomics and proteomic strategies
  3. DNA sequencing and genotype analyses
  4. Molecular modeling strategies to facilitate design of novel therapeutic agents
  5. DNA-protein biochemistry
  6. Methods to assess transcriptional control mechanisms
  7. In vitro cell culture models
  8. Viral replication studies utilizing biocontainment safety level 3 (BSL-3) facilities
  9. In vivo animal model systems
  10. Xenografting, cellular trafficking, and quantitative assessment procedures to identify specific uninfected and infected cell populations
HIV-1 LTR diagram: Modulatory Region, Enhancer Region, Core Region

HIV-1 LTR / Modulatory Region / Enhancer Region / Core Region

In the first programmatic area, the molecular mechanisms involved in regulating gene expression of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the causative agent of the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) and the progressive neurologic disorder, HIV-dementia (HIVD), is under exploration. Specifically, the laboratory focuses on the impact of retrovirus genetic variation, signaling pathways, cellular differentiation processes and viral transactivators on critical DNA-protein interactions involved in regulating HIV transcription in cells of monocyte-macrophage origin, including CD34+ precursor cells in the bone marrow and peripheral blood. In addition to defining the transcription regulatory mechanisms that may be critical to the etiology of HIVD, studies are also focused on defining signature sequences in the viral long terminal repeat (LTR) and genes encoding HIV regulatory proteins (Tat and Vpr) that may provide information useful in developing predictive tools to track the development of neurologic disease and therapeutic targets


In the second area of investigation, molecular modeling strategies and other experimental approaches are being used to develop therapeutic strategies to prevent sexual transmission of HIV. These studies have led to the identification of a family of compounds that interfere with the interaction of HIV-1 gp120 with the receptor (CD4) and the coreceptors (CXCR4 and CCR5).

HTLV-1 Tax Nucleocytoplasmic Shuttling

HTLV-1 Tax Nucleocytoplasmic Shuttling

In the third area of investigation, the role that a selected group of cellular transcription factors (Sp1/Sp3, C/EBP, AP-1, and ATF/CREB) play in regulating Tax-mediated transactivation of the human T cell lymphotropic virus type I (HTLV-I) LTR during hematopoiesis and during development and activation of cells of the monocyte-macrophage origin and other lineages of cells important in cell-mediated immune response to HTLV infection is under investigation. Studies are also in progress to identify nuclear and cytoplasmic proteins involved in nuclear export and secretion of the HTLV-1 oncoprotein Tax. These studies will also identify Tax domains integrally involved in these processes. Defining these molecular interactions will be important to developing new therapeutic strategies to prevent HTLV-I-associated neurologic disease.

Collaborating for Culturally-Competent Care [PDF]

Professors Jeffrey Jacobson, Brian Wigdahl and Irwin Chaiken give valuable insight into the pivotal collaborative work they are performing in the ongoing battle against HIV/AIDS.

In the Media


Modeling the pathology, immune responses, and kinetics of HSV-1 replication in the lip scarification model
Egan KP, Allen AG, Wigdahl B, Jennings SR
Virology. 2018 Jan 15;514:124-133. doi: 10.1016/j.virol.2017.11.010. Epub 2017 Nov 22.
PMID: 29175626

Functional Studies of CCAAT/Enhancer Binding Protein Site Located Downstream of the Transcriptional Start Site
Liu Y, Nonnemacher MR, Alexaki A, Pirrone V, Banerjee A, Li L, Kilareski E, Wigdahl B
Clin Med Insights Pathol. 2017 Nov 15;10:1179555717694556. doi: 10.1177/1179555717694556. eCollection 2017.
PMID: 29162980

Designing broad-spectrum anti-HIV-1 gRNAs to target patient-derived variants
Dampier W, Sullivan NT, Chung CH, Mell JC, Nonnemacher MR, Wigdahl B
Sci Rep. 2017 Oct 31;7(1):14413. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-12612-z.
PMID: 29089503

Evidence of Divergent Amino Acid Usage in Comparative Analyses of R5- and X4-Associated HIV-1 Vpr Sequences
Antell GC, Dampier W, Aiamkitsumrit B, Nonnemacher MR, Pirrone V, Zhong W, Kercher K, Passic S, Williams J, Liu Y, James T, Jacobson JM, Szep Z, Wigdahl B, Krebs FC
Int J Genomics. 2017;2017:4081585. doi: 10.1155/2017/4081585. Epub 2017 May 17.
PMID: 28620613

cAMP Signaling Enhances HIV-1 Long Terminal Repeat (LTR)-directed Transcription and Viral Replication in Bone Marrow Progenitor Cells
Banerjee A, Li L, Pirrone V, Krebs FC, Wigdahl B, Nonnemacher MR
Clin Med Insights Pathol. 2017 Mar 10;10:1179555717694535. doi: 10.1177/1179555717694535. eCollection 2017.
PMID: 28469516

Mitochondrial Haplogroup Influences Motor Function in Long-Term HIV-1-Infected Individuals
Azar A, Devlin K, Mell JC, Giovannetti T, Pirrone V, Nonnemacher MR, Passic S, Kercher K, Williams JW, Jacobson JM, Wigdahl B, Dampier W, Libon DJ, Sell C
PLoS One. 2016 Oct 6;11(10):e0163772. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0163772. eCollection 2016.
PMID: 27711166

Specific amino acids in HIV-1 Vpr are significantly associated with differences in patient neurocognitive status
Dampier W, Antell GC, Aiamkitsumrit B, Nonnemacher MR, Jacobson JM, Pirrone V, Zhong W, Kercher K, Passic S, Williams JW, James T, Devlin KN, Giovannetti T, Libon DJ, Szep Z, Ehrlich GD, Wigdahl B, Krebs FC
J Neurovirol. 2017 Feb;23(1):113-124. doi: 10.1007/s13365-016-0462-3. Epub 2016 Jul 11.
PMID: 27400931

HIV-1 Genetic Variation Resulting in the Development of New Quasispecies Continues to Be Encountered in the Peripheral Blood of Well-Suppressed Patients
Dampier W, Nonnemacher MR, Mell J, Earl J, Ehrlich GD, Pirrone V, Aiamkitsumrit B, Zhong W, Kercher K, Passic S, Williams JW, Jacobson JM, Wigdahl B
PLoS One. 2016 May 19;11(5):e0155382. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0155382. eCollection 2016.
PMID: 27195985

Utilization of HIV-1 envelope V3 to identify X4- and R5-specific Tat and LTR sequence signatures
Antell GC, Dampier W, Aiamkitsumrit B, Nonnemacher MR, Jacobson JM, Pirrone V, Zhong W, Kercher K, Passic S, Williams JW, Schwartz G, Hershberg U, Krebs FC, Wigdahl B
Retrovirology. 2016 May 3;13(1):32. doi: 10.1186/s12977-016-0266-9.
PMID: 27143130

HIV-1 Promoter Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms Are Associated with Clinical Disease Severity
Nonnemacher MR, Pirrone V, Feng R, Moldover B, Passic S, Aiamkitsumrit B, Dampier W, Wojno A, Kilareski E, Blakey B, Ku TS, Shah S, Sullivan NT, Jacobson JM, Wigdahl B
PLoS One. 2016 Apr 21;11(4):e0150835. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0150835. eCollection 2016.
PMID: 27100290

HIV-1 Latency and Eradication: Past, Present and Future
Datta PK, Kaminski R, Hu W, Pirrone V, Sullivan NT, Nonnemacher MR, Dampier W, Wigdahl B, Khalili K
Curr HIV Res. 2016;14(5):431-441. Review.
PMID: 27009094

Biomarkers of HIV Susceptibility and Disease Progression
Pirrone V, Mell J, Janto B, Wigdahl B
EBioMedicine. 2014 Nov 7;1(2-3):99-100. doi: 10.1016/j.ebiom.2014.11.003. eCollection 2014 Dec. No abstract available.
PMID: 26137515

Human Immunodeficiency Virus Type 1 Cellular Entry and Exit in the T Lymphocytic and Monocytic Compartments: Mechanisms and Target Opportunities During Viral Disease
Aiamkitsumrit B, Sullivan NT, Nonnemacher MR, Pirrone V, Wigdahl B
Adv Virus Res. 2015;93:257-311. doi: 10.1016/bs.aivir.2015.04.001. Epub 2015 May 8. Review.
PMID: 26111588

HIV Excision Utilizing CRISPR/Cas9 Technology: Attacking the Proviral Quasispecies in Reservoirs to Achieve a Cure
Dampier W, Nonnemacher MR, Sullivan NT, Jacobson JM, Wigdahl B
MOJ Immunol. 2014 Oct 17;1(4). pii: 00022.
PMID: 25893217

Contact Information

Department of Microbiology & Immunology
2900 W. Queen Lane
Philadelphia, PA 19129
Phone: 215.991.8352
Fax: 215.848.2271

Department of Microbiology & Immunology
245 N. 15th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102
Phone: 215.762.7598
Fax: 215.762.1955