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The Pirbright Institute

Arbovirus Pathogenesis Group

Our arbovirus work includes studies on virus infections of arthropods, arthropod cell cultures and pathogenesis of arboviral encephalitis and arthralgia in mammals. Research includes mosquito and tick transmitted viruses; in particular, the mosquito-transmitted alphaviruses Semliki Forest virus (SFV) and chikungunya virus (CHIKV), mosquito transmitted bunyaviruses including Rift Valley fever virus (RVF), and tick transmitted flaviviruses including tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV) and its attenuated strain Langat virus (LGTV). The group works very closely with the Tick-borne Viruses Group led by Dr Lesley Bell-Sakyi.

Research questions:

Research questions:

Why are arboviruses generally persistent and non-cytopathic in arthropod cells but cytopathic in most mammalian cells?

Why are arboviruses non-cytopathic and persistent in specialised mammalian cells including neurons and macrophages?

What are the innate defence systems activated and antagonised by alphavirus and flavivirus infections in mosquito and tick cells and in mammalian cells?

Which cellular proteins do alphavirus and flavivirus proteins interact with?

Is infection of macrophages required for the clinical arthralgia and persistence of chikungunya virus?

Can mosquito transmission of Rift Valley fever be prevented by genetic modification of the virus?


Arboviruses can cause explosive epidemics of importance to human and veterinary medicine. Examples include Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV), West Nile virus (WNV) and Chikungunya virus (CHIKV). Encephalitis and arthralgia/arthritis are common problems. Most of our research on mammals focuses on the alphaviruses. This group of arboviruses includes VEEV, CHIKV, Semliki Forest virus (SFV) and Sindbis virus (SINV). The laboratory has a long track record of studies on SFV; including studies on the molecular biology of the virus, virus replicons and vectors and virus pathogenesis, particularly encephalitis. Studies are ongoing to elucidate the mechanisms by which alphaviruses can persist and the mechanisms by which they cause disease, in particular encephalitis and arthralgia.

Since 2006 a chikungunya epidemic has caused millions of cases of arthralgia in the islands of the Indian Ocean, the Indian subcontinent and SE Asia. Studies are in progress to investigate the pathogenesis of acute myalgia and arthralgia and chronic arthralgia/arthritis. Much of this work is part of an EU (FP7) programme, Integrated Research on Chikungunya
(ICRES, www.icres.eu) which involves many international partner laboratories.



Peter Liljeström, Karolinska Institutet, Sweden
Andres Merits, University of Tartu, Estonia
Tero Ahola, University of Helsinki, Finland
Philippe Gasque, University of La Réunion, France
Pierre Roques, Commissariat à l’énergie Automique, France
Suresh Mahalingam, Griffith University, Australia
Mariano Esteban, Centro Nacional de Biotecnologia, Spain
Alain Kohl, University of Glasgow, United Kingdom
Esther Schnettler, University of Glasgow, United Kingdom
Clive McKimmie, University of Glasgow, United Kingdom
Richard Elliott, University of Glasgow, United Kingdom
Bahram Ebrahimi, University of Liverpool, United Kingdom
Finn Grey, University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Bob Dalziel, University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Juergen Haas, University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Jean Manson, University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom
James Ironside, University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Mark Head, University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Bob Dalziel, University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Ron Hay, University of Dundee, United Kingdom

Group Members:

  • Professor John Fazakerley (Group Leader)

  • Dr Rennos Fragkoudis (Pirbright Fellow)

  • Dr Sue Jacobs

  • Dr Mhairi Ferguson

  • Mr Adrian Zagrajek

  • Ms Stacey Human




Contact us 

Please email us at enquiries@pirbright.ac.uk.