New Bolton Center Kennett Square, PA
Emergencies & Appointments:
Ryan Hospital Philadelphia, PA

Harty Laboratory

At the Harty Laboratory, we focus our research on three main areas:

  1. The molecular dynamics and biological significance of virus-host interactions during late stages of RNA virus assembly and egress.
  2. The identification and development of host-oriented therapeutics as a new class of antiviral inhibitors.
  3. The interplay between the host innate immune response and RNA virus infection.

Our model virus systems to interrogate these topics include:

  • Filoviruses (Ebola and Marburg viruses)
  • Arenaviruses (Lassa fever and Junín viruses)
  • Rhabdoviruses (VSV)
  • Retroviruses (HIV-1 and HTLV-1)

Contact Information

Ron Harty

Ronald N. Harty, PhD
Professor, Department of Pathobiology
215-573-4485 (office phone)
215-573-8567 (lab phone)
215-898-7887 (fax)

Research Area #1: Virus-host interactions regulate virus egress and spread

Viruses have developed unique and complex molecular mechanisms to ensure efficient egress of mature virions from infected cells. Our studies are focused on unraveling the intricate roles of both viral and host proteins in this process, and particularly the specific recruitment of host factors to regulate budding of infectious virus. A better understanding of these virus-host interactions and the mechanisms of virus budding not only will provide fundamental insights into the functions of both viral and host proteins, but also will lead to the emergence of novel strategies to inhibit virion egress and spread.

Harty Lab - fig 1Figure 1:
Top: Protocol for Virus-Like Particle (VLP) budding assay.

Bottom: Low and high magnification electron micrographs showing budding of long, filamentous Ebola VP40 VLPs from the surface of HEK293T cells. The Ebola VP40 VLPs accurately mimic the morphology and dimensions of live infectious Ebola virus.

The Late (L) budding domain motifs (PTAP and/or PPxY) are highly conserved in the matrix proteins of a wide array of RNA viruses (e.g. filoviruses, arenaviruses, rhabdoviruses, paramyxoviruses, henipaviruses, and retroviruses) and represent attractive and novel targets for the development of therapeutics having broad-spectrum antiviral activity.

Early on we demonstrated that the Ebola virus VP40 protein plays a central and sufficient role in virion assembly and egress, due in part to the presence of overlapping PTAP and PPEY L-domains. We showed that independent expression of VP40 led to the production and egress of virus-like particles (VLPs) that accurately mimic budding of live infectious virus. We used VP40 VLPs and genetically engineered VSV recombinants that expressed WT and mutant L-domain motifs from Ebola virus VP40, to show that efficient budding is dependent on viral L-domain mediated recruitment of host proteins associated with the ESCRT pathway for complete virus-cell fission.


Figure 2: A GFP-Ebola VP40 fusion protein expressed in HEK293T cells shows robust virus-like particle (green) assembly and egress at the plasma membrane. The cytoplasm is stained with HCS CellMask™ Deep Red. This image was generated by the Penn Vet Imaging Core Facility.

The PPxY L-domain motif, conserved in the matrix proteins of Ebola, Marburg, Lassa fever, and VSV, interacts with WW-domains of specific host proteins (e.g. Nedd4) to regulate virus egress. To identify additional WW-domain-bearing host proteins that interact with these viral PPxY motifs, we used viral PPxY-containing peptides to screen an array of 115 mammalian WW-domain-bearing proteins. Results from this screen revealed a plethora of novel PPxY interacting proteins that have both positive and negative effects on VLP and virus budding.

Figure 3: Video highlighting the use of Total Internal Reflection Fluorescence (TIRF) Microscopy to visualize GFP-Ebola VP40 VLPs budding in real-time from the plasma membrane of live HEK293T cells. This video was generated by the PennVet Imaging Core Facility.

For example, we identified BCL2 Associated Athanogene 3 (BAG3) as the first WW-domain-bearing host protein to interact with viral PPxY motifs and negatively regulate egress of Ebola VP40, Marburg VP40, and Lassa Z VLPs. Ongoing projects in the lab are to determine whether additional novel PPxY-interactors identified from this screen play a biologically relevant role in virus assembly and egress. 

Research Area #2: Identification and development of host-oriented L-domain inhibitors of virus budding

Based in part on our steady progress in elucidating the molecular aspects and host involvement in virus budding from studies described above, and our long-term goal of developing antivirals, a current major effort in the lab is to identify, develop, and optimize small molecule compounds targeting viral L-domain/host interactions to inhibit virus egress and spread. We postulate that for viruses such as Ebola, administration of such an antiviral therapeutic during an outbreak would inhibit virus dissemination and spread in infected individuals, thus slowing disease progression and allowing the individual’s immune system time to mount a robust response to effectively combat and clear the infection. 

Figure 4 - Harty lab

Figure 4: 
Left: Cartoon diagram of the proposed function of small molecule inhibitors of the viral PTAP-host Tsg101 interaction leading to inhibition of efficient virion egress from the plasma membrane. 
Right: Cartoon diagram of the proposed function of small molecule inhibitors of the viral PPxY-host Nedd4 interaction leading to inhibition of efficient virion egress from the plasma membrane.

There remains a vital need for the advancement and development of effective and safe therapeutics against emerging, high priority pathogens such as Ebola, Marburg, and Lassa fever viruses. Since these virus-host interactions represent a common mechanism in a range of emerging RNA viruses, we predict that they represent an Achilles’ heel in the life cycle of these RNA virus pathogens. Toward this end, we have ongoing, fruitful collaborations with medicinal chemists at Fox Chase Chemical Diversity Center in Doylestown, PA, and with virologists at several BSL-4 laboratories which has led to the identification of two successful lead series of PTAP and PPxY budding inhibitors that exhibit on-target, broad-spectrum antiviral activity against a wide array of RNA viruses. For example, our current lead PPxY inhibitors blocked egress of Ebola, Marburg, and Lassa fever VLPs, as well as budding of live infectious viruses in vitro. We continue to employ Structure Activity Relationship (SAR) to identify and test analogs for enhanced potency and low cytotoxicity, as we seek to further transition one or more full-qualified L-domain inhibitors into more detailed IND-directed pharmacokinetic, pharmacodynamic and toxicity studies. 

Figure 5 - Harty Lab

Figure 5: An electron micrograph showing a VSV recombinant containing a mutation in its L-domain resulting in virus particles remaining tethered to the plasma membrane of an infected cell, as they are unable to efficiently undergo fission or “pinch-off” from the cell. Inset – A cartoon diagram depicting the block in L-domain mediated virion egress.

Research Area #3: Innate immune defenses of hemorrhagic fever virus infection

Innate immune responses to virus infection provide a critical first line of defense for the host against the invading pathogen. Understanding the complex interplay between the host innate immune defense mechanisms and counteraction by the filoviruses is crucial for developing novel antiviral strategies, vaccines, and therapeutics. We have been interested in the host innate immune response to filoviruses and have investigated several mechanisms of host innate immune mediated defenses involving host proteins TLR4, SOCS1, SOCS3, and ISG15.

For example, ISG15 is an interferon stimulated gene that has garnered much attention recently due to its broad-range of antiviral activity against a plethora of pathogens including DNA and RNA viruses. We demonstrated for the first time that ISG15 inhibited budding of EBOV VP40 VLPs in a PPxY L-domain dependent manner, and that such inhibition involved impairment of host Nedd4 ligase activity. We continue to investigate whether ISGylation of additional VP40 host interactors can adversely affect VP40 function in budding. 

These studies will hopefully reveal new host innate immune defense mechanisms that may regulate the budding processes of several high priority NIAID Category A pathogens. Moreover, this information will be critical to identify strategies (therapies and/or vaccines) designed to tip the scale in favor of the host in the battle between viral pathogens and host innate immune defenses.

Current Lab Members

  • Dr. Ziying Han, Senior Research Scientist
  • Dr. Shantoshini Dash, Postdoctoral Researcher
  • Dr. Jingjing Liang, Postdoctoral Researcher 
  • Ariel Shepley-McTaggart, VMD/PhD Graduate Student, MVP Program
  • Mr. Michael P. Schwoerer, Penn Undergraduate Researcher

Former Lab Members (between 2014-2018)

  • Dr. Jianhong Lu, Associate Professor, Visiting Scientist
  • Dr. Junwei Li, Professor, Visiting Scientist
  • Dr. Wenbo Liu, Associate Professor, Visiting Scientist
  • Dr. Yi Xiong, Professor, Visiting Scientist
  • Dr. Jing Kong, Professor, Visiting Scientist
  • Mr. Philip Hicks, VMD/PhD Rotation Student
  • Mr. Kasyap Tennetti, Undergraduate Researcher, Washington University
  • Mr. Cris Ebby, Penn Undergraduate Researcher, Vagelos Scholar Program
  • Ms. Nicole White, VMD student, NIH/Merial Scholar
  • Ms. Sarah Wronski, VMD student, NIH/Merial Scholar
  •  Ms. Valerie Linck, MVP Program, Rotation Student, Fall 2018

Major Collaborators

  • Dr. Bruce Freedman, University of Pennsylvania
  • Dr. Jay E. Wrobel, Fox Chase Chemical Diversity Center
  • Dr. Allen B. Reitz, Fox Chase Chemical Diversity Center
  • Dr. James Mullin, Lankenau Institute for Medical Research
  • Dr. Marius Sudol, National University of Singapore
  • Dr. Mark T. Bedford, University of Texas, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center
  • Dr. Sachdev Sidhu, University of Toronto
  • Dr. Anthony P. Schmitt, Pennsylvania State University
  • Dr. Joachim Kremerskothen, University Hospital Münster, Germany
  • Dr. Dongeun Huh, University of Pennsylvania

Research Area #1: Virus-host interactions regulate virus egress and spread

Representative Publications

  1. Harty, R. N., Brown, M. E., Wang, G., Huibregtse, J., and Hayes, F. P.  2000.  A PPxY- motif within the VP40 protein of Ebola virus interacts physically and functionally with a ubiquitin ligase:  Implications for filovirus budding.  Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 97(25):13871-13876. 
  2. Licata, J. M., Han, Z., Simpson-Holley, M., Wright, N. T., Paragas, J., and Harty, R.N. 2003. Overlapping motifs (PTAP and PPEY) within the Ebola virus VP40 protein function independently as late budding domains: Involvement of host proteins tsg101 and vps4. J. Virol. 77(3), 1812-1819.
  3. Irie, T., Licata, J. M., and Harty, R. N.  2005.  Functional characterization of Ebola virus L-domains using VSV recombinants.  Virology, 336(2), 291-298. 
  4. Wirblich, C., Tan, G. S., Papaneri1, A., Godlewski, P. J., Harty, R. N., and Schnell, M. J.  2008. PPEY Motif within the Rabies Virus Matrix Protein is Essential for Efficient Virion Release and RV Pathogenicity, but not Immunogenicity.  J. Virol., 82(19):9730-8.
  5. Lu, J., Qu, Y., Liu, Y., Jambusaria, R., Han, Z., Ruthel, G., Freedman, B., and Harty, R. N. 2013. Host IQGAP1 and Ebola virus VP40 interactions facilitate VLP egress. J. Virol. 87(13): 7777-7780.
  6. Liang, J., Sagum, C.A., Bedford, M.T., Sidhu, S.S., Sudol, M., Han, Z., and Harty, R.N. 2017. Chaperone-mediated autophagy protein BAG3 negatively regulates Ebola and Marburg VP40-mediated egress. PLoS Pathog., 13(7):e1006132.  
  7. Han, Z., Sagum, C.A., Takizawa, F., Ruthel, G., Berry, C.T., Kong, J., Sunyer, J.O., Freedman, B.D., Bedford, M.T., Sidhu, S.S., Sudol, M., and Harty, R.N. 2017. Ubiquitin ligase WWP1 interacts with Ebola virus VP40 to regulate egress. J. Virol., 91(20), pii:e00812-17.
  8. Han, Z., Schwoerer, M.P., Hicks, P., Liang, J., Ruthel, G., Berry, C.T., Freedman, B.D., Sagum, C.A., Bedford, M.T., Sidhu, S.S., Sudol, M., and Harty, R.N.  2018. Host protein BAG3 is a negative regulator of Lassa VLP egress. Diseases, Jul 13;6(3). pii: E64.    
  9. Han Z, Dash S, Sagum CA, Ruthel G, Jaladanki CK, Berry CT, Schwoerer MP, Harty NM, Freedman BD, Bedford MT, Fan H, Sidhu SS, Sudol M, Shtanko O, Harty RN.  Modular mimicry and engagement of the Hippo pathway by Marburg virus VP40: Implications for filovirus biology and budding. PLoS Pathog. 2020 Jan 6;16(1):e1008231.

Research Area #2: Identification and development of host-oriented L-domain inhibitors of virus budding

Representative Publications

  1. Liu, Y., Lee, M. S., Olson, M. A., and Harty, R. N.  2011.  Bimolecular complementation to visualize filovirus VP40-host complexes in live mammalian cells: toward the identification of budding inhibitors. Adv. Virol. Jan 1;2011. Pii:341816.
  2. Lu, J., Han, Z., Liu, Y., Liu, W., Lee, M.S., Olson, M.A., Ruthel, G., Freedman, B.D., and Harty, R.N. 2014. A host-oriented inhibitor of Junín Argentine hemorrhagic fever virus egress. J. Virol. 88(9):4736-4743.
  3. Han, Z., Lu, J., Liu, Y., Davis, B., Lee, M.S., Olson, M.A., Ruthel, G., Freedman, B.D., Schnell, M.J., Wrobel, J., Reitz, A., and Harty, R.N. 2014. Small molecule probes targeting the viral PPxY-host Nedd4 interface block egress of a broad range of RNA viruses. J. Virol. 88(13):7294-7306.
  4. Madara, J., Han, Z., Ruthel, G., Freedman, B. D., and Harty, R. N.  2015.  Viral Matrix Proteins that Modulate Filovirus Assembly and Budding: An Update on Promising Therapeutic Targets. Future Virology, 10(5):537-546.
  5. Han, Z., Madara, J.J., Herbert, A., Prugar, L.I., Ruthel, G., Lu, J., Liu, Y., Liu, W., Liu, X., Wrobel, J.E., Reitz, A.B., Dye, J.M., Harty, R.N*., and Freedman, B.D*. (*co-corresponding authors). 2015. PLoS Pathog., 11(10):e1005220.
  6. Loughran, H.M., Han, Z., Wrobel, J.E., Decker, S.E., Ruthel, G., Freedman, B.D., Harty, R.N., and Reitz, A.B. 2016. Quinoxaline-based inhibitors of Ebola and Marburg VP40 egress. Bioorg Med Chem Lett., 26(15):3429-35. 

Research Area #3: Innate immune defenses of hemorrhagic fever virus infection

Representative Publications

  1. Okumura, A., Pitha, P. M., and Harty, R. N. 2008. ISG15 Inhibits Ebola VP40 VLP Budding in an L-Domain Dependent Manner by Blocking Nedd4 Ligase Activity.  Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 105(10):3974-9.
  2. Okumura, A., Pitha, P. M., Yoshimura, A., and Harty, R. N. 2010. Interaction between Ebola virus glycoprotein and host TLR-4 leads to induction of pro-inflammatory cytokines and SOCS1. J. Virol., 84(1):27-33.
  3. Irie, T., Carnero, E., Garcia-Sastre, A., and Harty, R. N.  2012.  In vivo replication and pathogenesis of vesicular stomatitis virus recombinant M40 containing Ebola virus L-domain sequences. Infectious Diseases: Research and Treatment, 5:59-64.
  4. Okumura, A., Rasmussen, A.L., Halfmann, P., Feldmann, F., Yoshimura, A., Harty, R.N., Feldmann, H., Kawaoka, Y., and Katze, M.G. 2015. Suppressor of cytokine signaling 3 is an inducible host factor during Ebola virus infection and 1 regulates virus egress. J. Virol., 89(20):10399-406.
  5. Han, Z., Sagum, C.A., Bedford, M.T., Sidhu, S.S., Sudol, M., and Harty, R.N. 2016. ITCH E3 ubiquitin ligase interacts with Ebola virus VP40 to regulate budding. J. Virol., 90(20):9163-71 (Spotlight Article)