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Prof Ariberto Fassati
Division of Infection & Immunity, UCL
The Rayne Building, 5 University Street, London, UK
Tel: 020 31087625
  • Professor of Cellular & Molecular Virology
  • Div of Infection & Immunity
  • Faculty of Medical Sciences

I graduated in Medicine (Summa cum Laude) at the University of Milan, Italy, and specialised in Neurology in 1994. I moved to the UK and obtained a PhD from King's College (Guy's Hospital), London, in 1997 on gene therapy for neuromuscular diseases and was awarded a Wellcome Trust Prize International fellowship to work with Steve Goff at Columbia University, New York. I returned to the UK in 1999 to work in Robin Weiss's group at UCL, I was awarded a Wellcome Trust Career Development fellowship in 2000 to set up his own group at UCL and a Wellcome Trust University Award in 2004. I am Professor of Cellular & Molecular Virology.

I am also an Associate Editor of Retrovirology and serve as a member of the CSS2 board of the Agence National de Recherche sur le SIDA (ANRS) (France).

Research Groups
Research Themes
Research Summary

I work on three areas: 1) molecular interactions between viruses and the host cells; 2) transport between the cell cytoplasm and the nucleus and 3) transmissible cancers. I have made seminal contributions in each of these fields.

I studied poorly understood events occurring after a retrovirus enters a target cell such as viral capsid uncoating and nuclear transport of the viral complex (J. Virol. 1999, 2001, 2003; EMBO J. 2003). We discovered critical differences between oncoretroviruses and HIV-1, which illuminated their different biology and tropism. We provided the first demonstration that the HIV-1 capsid protein enters into the nucleus and affects integration of the viral genome (PLoS Pathog. 2011). We showed that HIV-1 preferentially integrates within, or near, genes for T cell activation and metabolism to link viral gene expression to the activated or resting state of target CD4+ T cells (PLoS Pathog. 2017). Using chemical genetic approaches, we discovered that host cell factor Hsp90 is critical for HIV-1 gene expression and reactivation from latency (JBC 2010, PLoS Pathog. 2012, PNAS 2014).

By studying tRNAs that are selectively incorporated into HIV-1 particles, we found that, contrary to dogma, tRNAs are re-imported into the nucleus in human cells by an active pathway (PLoS Biol. 2006). This pathway, conserved from yeast to human, is now called "tRNA retrograde transport". It may control cell metabolism by sequestering tRNAs into the nucleus. HIV-1 exploits this pathway to gain access to the nucleus (PLoS Biol;. 2006, PLoS Pathog. 2011).
In collaboration with Bart Hoogenboom (UCL Centre for Nanotechnology), we described the biophysical properties of the native nuclear pore complex using atomic force microscopy thus addressing one of the fundamental problems in cell biology with key implications to understand how viruses travel across the nuclear envelope (Nature Nanotech 2015).

We demonstrated the clonal origin of the canine transmissible venereal tumour, proving that a mammalian cell can evolve into a transmissible cancer cell "parasite" (Cell 2006, Science 2014). CTVT often regresses after treatment with the drug vincristine. We found that CTVT regression depends on an acute inflammation of the host cells surrounding the tumour and upregulation of chemokine CCL5, which attracts and retains immune cells into the tumour site. Thus CTVT has provided fundamental insights into the pivotal role of innate immunity in breaking tolerance to this cancer, which might be applicable to cancer regression in general (Cancer Cell 2018).

Teaching Summary

I am the Postgraduate Tutor (Research) for the Division of Infection & Immunity. I am in charge of over 60 students registered in the Division and for the admission of new PhD students. I am the director of the PhD programme.

I lecture for the Molecular Virology course (VIRL3001), the Immunology course (IMM2002) and for the MSc in Infection.

Academic Background
1997 PhD Doctor of Philosophy United Medical and Dental Schools of Guy's and St.. Thomas's Hospitals
1994 SPL Specialist – Neurology Universita degli Studi di Milano
1991 MD Doctor of Medicine – Medicine Universita degli Studi di Milano
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