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Department of Pathology


Valeria (Lera) Lulla is a new Group Leader and Sir Henry Dale Fellow in the Department of Pathology, University of Cambridge. She undertook a PhD in virology, followed by three postdocs in the USA and UK virology labs. Lera’s newly established group is focusing on the replication and pathogenicity of intestinal RNA viruses, using astroviruses and enteroviruses as model systems. Her lab is using human intestinal organoids as a platform to address gut-specific determinants of enteric virus infection and human neuronal cultures to study the invasion of the central nervous system by some enteric viruses.



Project: Replication and pathogenicity of intestinal RNA viruses

Characterisation of the novel uORF in enteroviruses
We have recently reported that enteroviruses encode an additional protein in an upstream open reading frame (uORF). Knocking out expression of the uORF protein (termed “UP”, Upstream Protein) attenuates virus growth at late stages of infection in human intestinal organoids but not in standard cell culture systems, suggesting a specific role for UP during establishment of infection in gut epithelia in the initial stages of virus invasion into susceptible hosts (Lulla et al., Nature Microbiology, 2019). Current work focuses on understanding how UP expression is controlled, the role(s) of UP in different enterovirus species, characterisation of UP-mediated virus release in gut epithelial cells as well as potential related vaccine strategies.

Characterisation of astrovirus replication and pathogenicity
Astroviruses are one of the most prevalent groups of human RNA viruses. However, they are critically understudied because of the lack of good molecular tools and animal models. Despite the appearance of recently emerged strains and increasing detection of astroviruses as previously overlooked causative agents of gastroenteritis, the current lack of molecular understanding and expertise precludes the efficient development of therapeutic approaches. We have recently identified and characterised a new ORF encoded by astroviruses (Lulla and Firth, Nature Communications, 2020) and already used the developed astrovirus replicon system to aid a SARS-CoV-2 related project (Lulla et al., Journal of Virology, 2021). This project will focus on understanding the formation of the astrovirus replication complex, RNA synthesis mechanisms, proteolytic processing, gut-specific determinants, and the molecular mechanisms responsible for neurovirulence.

Funding for our research comes from the MRC, the Royal Society and the Wellcome Trust.

Collaborators: Andrew Firth, Ian Goodfellow (Department of Pathology), Matthias Zilbauer (Department of Paediatrics), Ed Emmott (University of Liverpool), Stephen Griffin (University of Leeds)

Group members:

Rhian O’Connor (3rd year MRC DTP PhD student)

Hashim Ali (Postdoctoral research associate)

David Noyvert (1st year PhD student)

Jack Hankinson (Postdoctoral research associate)


Key publications: 
  1. Ali H, Lulla A, Nicholson AS, Wignall-Fleming EB, O'Connor RL, Vu D-L, Graham SC, Deane JE, Guix S, Lulla V. Attenuation hotspots in neurotropic human astroviruses. (2022). BioRxiv preprint:
  2. Lulla V*, Wandel M, Bandyra KJ, Ulferts R, Wu M, Dendooven T, Yang X, Doyle N, Oerum S, Beale R, O’Rourke S, Randow F, Maier H, Scott W*, Ding Y*, Firth AE*, Bloznelyte K*, Luisi B*. (2021). Targeting the conserved stem loop 2 motif in the SARS-CoV-2 genome. Journal of Virology.
  3. Lulla V*, Firth AE* (2020). A hidden gene in astroviruses encodes a viroporin. Nature Communications, 11(1):4070.
  4. Lulla V*, Dinan AM, Hosmillo M, Chaudhry Y, Sherry L, Irigoyen N, Nayak KM, Stonehouse NJ, Zilbauer M, Goodfellow I, Firth AE*. (2019). An upstream protein-coding region in enteroviruses modulates virus infection in gut epithelial cells. Nature Microbiology, 4(2):280-292.

* Corresponding authors

Complete publication list on Google Scholar

Group leader, Sir Henry Dale Fellow
Division of Virology

Contact Details

Takes PhD students
Available for consultancy