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Peter Williamson, M.D., Ph.D.

Photo of Peter Williamson

Chief, Translational Mycology Unit

Laboratory of Clinical Infectious Diseases

Major Areas of Research

  • The role of specialized signal motifs in trafficking of virulence factors to the fungal cell wall
  • How copper is exploited by successful cryptococcal strains to facilitate its unique ability to produce meningitis and how the host attempts to counter pathogen acquisition in health and disease
  • Regulation of autophagy by Cryptococcus in latent and active infections
  • TOR-dependent regulation of autophagic-associated phagocytosis in macrophages
  • Genetic susceptibility to infection by Cryptococccus in non-HIV related infections
  • Genetic susceptibility to bloodstream infections by Candida albicans
  • High dimensional transcriptional profiling of primary immune deficiencies and autoimmune diseases
  • International Studies: Early clinical and genetic markers of cryptococcal disease in AIDS patients and markers of immune reconstitution syndrome (Africa and India)

Program Description

The Translational Mycology Unit seeks to understand the role of host-pathogen genetics in the outcome of fungal infections. We use an array of methods from fungal genetics, cell biology, immunology, and population genetics to identify and validate weak points of the host-pathogen interface that might facilitate personalized therapeutic intervention.

The laboratory currently is focusing on studies of the AIDS-related pathogen Cryptococcus neoformans, which has become the fourth leading cause of infectious death in regions of the developing world, as well as Candida albicans, a major cause of bloodstream infections in the United States.


Dr. Williamson received his M.D./Ph.D. from Boston University in 1987 and completed a residency in internal medicine at Georgetown University before coming to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for a fellowship in infectious diseases. In 1995, after serving a short stint as chief medical officer, Lalmba Sudan, Dr. Williamson joined the faculty at the University of Illinois at Chicago as an assistant professor of medicine in the section of infectious diseases. After progressing to the rank of professor of medicine, pathology, microbiology, and immunology, Dr. Williamson then returned to NIH to head the Translational Mycology Unit in the Laboratory of Clinical Infectious Diseases.

Research Group

Williamson group
Back row, L-R: Vasilios Pyrgos, Guowu Hu, Matthew Myers, Peter Williamson, Dominique Earland
Middle row, L-R: Travis McQuiston, Christina Thomas, Jin Qiu, Shu Hui Chen, Nannan Zhang, Estefania Fernandez
Front row, L-R: Doralina Ruiz-Fleites, Yoon-Dong Park, Priyanka Yadav

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Selected Publications

Hu G, McQuiston T, Bernard A, Park YD, Qiu J, Vural A, Zhang N, Waterman SR, Blewett NH, Myers TG, Maraia RJ, Kehrl JH, Uzel G, Klionsky DJ, Williamson PR. A conserved mechanism of TOR-dependent RCK-mediated mRNA degradation regulates autophagy. Nat Cell Biol. In press.

Panackal AA, Wuest SC, Lin YC, Wu T, Zhang N, Kosa P, Komori M, Blake A, Browne SK, Rosen LB, Hagen F, Meis J, Levitz SM, Quezado M, Hammoud D, Bennett JE, Bielekova B, Williamson PR. Paradoxical Immune Responses in Non-HIV Cryptococcal Meningitis. PLoS Pathog. 2015 May 28;11(5):e1004884. Epub ahead of print.

Komori M, Blake A, Greenwood M, Lin YC, Kosa P, Ghazali D, Winokur P, Natrajan M, Wuest SC, Romm E, Panackal AA, Williamson PR, Wu T, Bielekova B. Cerebrospinal fluid markers reveal intrathecal inflammation in progressive multiple sclerosis. Ann Neurol. 2015 Mar 25. Epub ahead of print.

Hu G, Hacham M, Waterman SR, Panepinto J, Shin S, Liu X, Gibbons J, Valyi-Nagy T, Obara K, Jaffe HA, Ohsumi Y, Williamson PR. PI3K signaling of autophagy is required for starvation tolerance and virulence of Cryptococcus neoformans. J Clin Invest. 2008 Mar;118(3):1186-97.

Waterman SR, Hacham M, Hu G, Zhu X, Park YD, Shin S, Panepinto J, Valyi-Nagy T, Beam C, Husain S, Singh N, Williamson PR. Role of a CUF1/CTR4 copper regulatory axis in the virulence of Cryptococcus neoformans. J Clin Invest. 2007 Mar;117(3):794-802.

Panepinto J, Liu L, Ramos J, Zhu X, Valyi-Nagy T, Eksi S, Fu J, Jaffe HA, Wickes B, Williamson PR. The DEAD-box RNA helicase VAD1 regulates multiple virulence-associated genes in Cryptococcus neoformans. J Clin Invest. 2005 Mar;115(3):632-41.

Visit PubMed for a complete publication listing.

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Featured Research

Autophagic vesicles, special compartments within cells where autophagy takes place

From Yeast to Humans: Basic Research Provides Insight into Rare Disease

NIAID scientists describe a regulatory mechanism that helps control autophagy, a natural process by which cells break down their own components and recycle the parts. As part of this work, the researchers identified a potential biomarker to monitor disease activity in people with a rare immunodeficiency disease.

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Understanding the Immune Response to Cryptococcus in Healthy People

NIH researchers show that Cryptococcus infection progresses differently in healthy people compared to those with underlying infections like HIV. The work suggests that different therapies should be explored for healthy people who develop the disease.

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New Method To Screen Brain Inflammation Identified

NIH researchers identify spinal fluid markers that can identify brain inflammation in people with neurological diseases.

Last Updated June 22, 2015