Jacco Boon, Ph.D.

Associate Professor
Internal Medicine
Infectious Diseases
Molecular Microbiology
Pathology and Immunology

Molecular Microbiology and Microbial Pathogenesis Program
Immunology Program

  • 314-286-0857

  • 314-286-1522

  • 314-362-9230

  • 7240 McDonnell Pediatric Research Building

  • jboon@wustl.edu

  • www.jaccoboonlab.com

  • Host-pathogen interactions, Influenza virus, SARS-CoV-2, Bourbon virus, Viral pathogenesis, RNA biology, Influenza Reassortment

  • Emerging viruses

Research Abstract:

In the Boon laboratory, we study the emergence, transmission, prevention and disease mechanisms of several different emerging RNA viruses including influenza virus, SARS coronaviruses and tick-borne orthomyxoviruses.

Influenza A virus is a collective name for a large number of different viruses that can infect many different avian and mammalian species. They are divided into subtypes based on their surface hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N) expression. Seasonal or epidemic influenza A viruses belong the H1N1 and H3N2 subtype, and infections are associated with mild disease in healthy adults. Many other subtypes (H5N1, H7N9, and H9N2) circulate in avian species and occasionally infect humans handling these species. Human infections with highly pathogenic H5N1 or H7N9 virus are associated with severe and often fatal disease. The case fatality rate of highly pathogenic H5N1 and H7N9 influenza virus is 25-50%. To prevent a pandemic caused by one of these avian influenza viruses, it is important to understand how emerging viruses emerge and how protect against all these different subtypes of influenza virus.

The RNA genome of influenza virus is segmented enabling it to mix with other influenza virus and create entirely novel influenza viruses. This process is called reassortment and it forms the basis for the generation on pandemic influenza viruses. One barrier to reassortment is genome packaging, an process that mediates the assembly of all eight gene-segments into progeny viruses. Viral RNA structures and gene-segment interactions are thought to mediate this process. We have developed state-of-the-art RNA probing technologies to identify RNA structures in human and avian influenza viruses that are involved in genome packaging and virus reassortment. These fundamental insights into the structure and folding of the viral genome will help us understand how segmented viruses assemble and perform risk assessments on the reassortment potential of two influenza viruses. In addition, we want to better understand the immune response to influenza vaccination and develop innovative vaccines that induce broadly cross-reactive vaccines.

Coronaviruses form a major threat to human health as was shown in 2003 with the outbreak of the original SARS coronavirus and in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic. Our scientific contribution to the pandemic was the development of the SARS-CoV-2 Syrian hamster model and testing of clinical and pre-clinical vaccines and therapeutic monoclonal antibodies. We also developed a SARS-CoV-2 airborne transmission model in the Syrian hamster and demonstrated that immunization with an intranasal vaccine prevents the spread of the virus in a transmission-chain model. Our future research is focused on using barcoded viruses to understand virus transmission, define transmission bottlenecks, assess the the role of innate and adaptive immunity on the bottleneck, and define the correlates of protection against SARS-CoV-2 transmission in this model.

Bourbon virus is a tick-borne orthomyxovirus that is transmitted from ticks to people in the United States. My laboratory developed one of the first mouse models for Bourbon virus and showed that an antiviral drug, Favipiravir, can inhibit virus replication and eliminate severe disease in this model. Our future research is focused on developing mRNA vaccines against this group of viruses, identify and understand the molecular interactions between the virus and the host cells, and characterize the viral surface envelope protein using monoclonal antibodies and structural analyses.

Most of our studies are performed in an enhanced biosafety level 3 laboratory and use a combination of techniques including next-generation sequencing, flow cytometry, vaccine development and design, mRNA vaccines, virological assays, immunological assays, and molecular biological assays. We collaborate with many different laboratories inside and outside Washington University in St Louis.

Selected Publications:

For a list of publications:


Last Updated: 11/10/2022 8:54:23 AM

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