William Petri

Petri, William A

Primary Appointment

Wade Hampton Frost Professor of Medicine and Vice Chair for Research of the Department of Medicine, and Professor of Medicine, Microbiology, Immunology and Cancer Biology, and Pathology, Medicine: Infectious Diseases and International Health, Medicine: Infectious Diseases and International Health


  • PhD, Microbiology, University of Virginia
  • MD, University of Virginia
  • Residency, Internal Medicine, University Hospital of Cleveland
  • Clinical Fellowship, Infectious Diseases, University of Virginia

Contact Information

PO Box 801340
345 Crispell Drive, MR-6, Room 1709
Charlottesville, VA 22908
Telephone: 434-924-5621
Fax: 434-924-0075

Research Disciplines

Biotechnology, Immunology, Infectious Diseases/Biodefense, Microbiology

Research Interests

Immune mechanisms of defense against COVID-19 and enteric (diarrheal) infections

Research Description

William A. Petri, Jr., M.D., Ph.D. studies immunology and molecular pathogenesis of infectious diseases and their consequences. The scope of research includes immunopathogenesis and vaccine development for COVID-19, molecular parasitology of Entamoeba, innate immune host defense against Clostridium difficile, and in Bangladesh acquired immunity to Cryptosporidium. We study infections in mouse models, in humans (including clinical trials) and at the lab bench.

COVID-19: We have discovered in patients at the UVA Hospital that an over-active immune system is associated with deterioration to respiratory failure and death and are exploring novel immunotherapy in the mouse model. We are also using novel toll like receptor agonists in a subunit vaccine designed to promote mucosal immunity.

AMEBIASIS: Focusing on amebic colitis, his lab identified the Gal/GalNAc-binding lectin of the parasite Entamoeba histolytica that mediates contact-dependent killing of host cells. Cell biologic studies of adherence, apoptosis and endocytosis of human cells by the parasite are active areas of investigation. This work is supported by an R01 to Dr. Petri from the NIH. DNA transformation of the parasite was pioneered in the lab, and is used to study molecular pathogenesis. Clinically, the group has developed FDA-approved antigen-detection tests that allow sensitive and specific diagnosis of amebiasis. Current work is focused on the mechanism of Entamoeba killing of host cells by a unique process called trogocytosis (Ralston KD et al, Nature (2014) 508:526) and the development of an amebiasis vaccine in partnership with the Infectious Diseases Research Institute of Seattle (Abhyankar M et al. Vaccine 35 (2017) 916).

C. DIFFICILE: The innate immune response to Clostridium difficile colitis is a new area of investigation. Also supported by a separate R01 to Dr. Petri from the NIH, his lab has discovered that eosinophils protect from C. difficile in both mice (Buonomo EL et al., Cell Reports 2016, 16:1-12) and humans (Kulaylat AS et al., JAMA Surg. doi:10.1001/jamasurg.2018.3174.) Understanding how eosinophils protect, and why inflammasome activation by toxin activation of TLR2 causes death (Cowardin CA et al. Nature Microbiology 2016, doi:10.1038/nmicrobiol.2016.108) are current ares of focus.

CRYPTOSPORIDIOSIS: The acquired immune response to Cryptosporidium hominis in children growing up in the urban slums of Bangladesh is a third area of investigation. Supported by another NIH R01 grant, the focus of this research is the role of mucosal immunity in defense, including identification of parasite proteins recognized by IgA and by immune T cells (Steiner KL et al Clin Infect Dis. 2018 Apr 20. doi: 10.1093/cid/ciy310).

19 graduate students have received the PhD degree under Dr. Petri’s mentorship all of whom continue in science, and 25 postdoctoral fellows. Eleven graduates of the lab have received K career development awards from the NIH, and nine have received their own independent R01. Currently there are five graduate students three postdoctoral fellows and 6 faculty conducting research in the Petri group.

Selected Publications