Robert Kalejta, PhD

Dept: Professor, Oncology and Molecular Virology
Contact: 641A  Bock
1525 Linden Drive
Madison, WI 53706
608-265-5546
rfkalejta (at) wisc (dot) edu
Training Areas:
  • Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology
  • Cell & Molecular Biology
  • Stem Cell & Regenerative Medicine
  • Virology Program
  • Cancer Biology
  • Microbiology Doctoral Training program
  • Medical Scientist Training Program
Lab Website: Click Here

Research Interests

Our lab focuses on determining the mechanisms of human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) replication and pathogenesis.  We are interested in HCMV because it is a ubiquitous and medically relevant virus that causes severe disease in immunocompromised patients, is the leading viral cause of birth defects, and impacts upon the etiology and/or progression of cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Viruses are obligate intracellular parasites that rely upon their host cells for its replication.  Therefore, viruses have an intimate knowledge of the inner workings of cells.  They are the best cell biologists you will ever meet.  Thus, studying how a virus manipulates a cellular pathway or process you are interested in is a great way to learn more about it.  Our interests are cell cycle progression, transcriptional silencing, and protein degradation.  We study two HCMV proteins that modulate these pathways called pp71 and UL97.

pp71 induces the degradation of cellular proteins that it binds to in an unusual, proteasome-dependent but ubiquitin independent manner.  We are actively exploring the mechanism through which it accomplishes this important task.  pp71 degrades the Rb tumor suppressor that controls progression through the G1 phase of the cell cycle.  By degrading Rb, pp71 stimulates cell cycle progression.  pp71 also degrades Daxx, and thus neutralizes a cellular intrinsic antiviral defense mediated by this nuclearly localized protein, allowing for viral gene expression during lytic HCMV infections.  Interestingly, the virus prevents pp71-mediated degradation of Daxx during the establishment of latent infections by sequestering pp71 in the cytoplasm of infected cells.  Determining how pp71 is trapped in the cytoplasm is a major goal of the laboratory.

UL97 is a protein kinase, and we identified it as the first known viral protein that directly phosphorylates Rb.  Furthermore, we found that UL97 mimics the activities of the cellular cyclin-dependent kinases (Cdks) that drive cell cycle progression, thus identifying UL97 as the first viral Cdk (v-Cdk).  Our lab is continuing to study how UL97 phosphorylates Rb, stimulates cell cycle progression, and the role that these activities have during HCMV infection.  An interesting corollary to these studies is that the cellular cyclin-dependent kinases (Cdks) that normally phosphorylate Rb are activated during HCMV infection but fail to phosphorylate Rb.  We would like to determine how HCMV can prevent Cdk-mediated Rb phosphorylation, and then perhaps use that approach as a cancer chemotherapy.

A more detailed description of our work, information about the size and composition of our group and our complete publication record can be found on our Lab Home Page.

Honors & Awards

  • Vice-Chair, Institute for Molecular Virology
  • Assistant Director, McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research
  • Member, Virology – B study section
  • Associate Editor, PLoS Pathogens
  • Editorial Board, The Journal of Virology

Selected Publications

(Find further publications on PubMed)