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Richard Y. Zhao, PhD

Academic Title:


Primary Appointment:


Secondary Appointment(s):

Microbiology and Immunology

Administrative Title:

Division Director, Division of Molecular Pathology

Additional Title:

Head, Division of Molecular Pathology, Department of Pathology & Director, Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory, UMMC



Phone (Primary):

(410) 706-6301 (Office)

Phone (Secondary):

(410) 706-6312 (Research Lab)


(410) 706-6303

Education and Training

  • China Oceanography University B.S 1981
  • Oregon State University M.S 1995
  • Oregon State University PH.D 1991
  • College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, Post Doc. 1991-2


Dr. Richard Zhao’s basic science research interest is to study virus-host interactions, viral pathogenicity and antiviral drug development. He uses a unique approach in his research by combining the tools of molecular biology, fission yeast genetics, mammalian biology and virology into a single theme. The adaptation of this unique research approach was rooted from his scientific training and working experiences.

He was originally trained in molecular biology and microbial genetics at Oregon State University. He received his postdoctoral training in fission yeast genetics at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University. He started his own research laboratory in 1994 at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine where he came up the idea of using fission yeast as a model to study HIV. He was later awarded with an endowed research chair as the Bernard L. Mirkin PhD/MD Research Scholar.

Dr. Zhao has published more than 120 peer-reviewed scientific articles, serves/served on a number of journal editorial boards including Cell Research, Cell and Biosciences, Frontiers in Virology, Microbial Cell, PLoS One and Retrovirology.

In addition, he chaired or served on a number of NIH grant review study panels or sections. He reviewed scientific grant applications for funding agencies of over ten different countries. He is currently a tenured Professor of Pathology, Microbiology-Immunology and Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Research/Clinical Keywords

HIV/AIDS, Zika Virus, host pathogen, fission yeast, model system, molecular pathology, transitional genomics, precision medicine

Highlighted Publications

Li G, Makar T, Gerzanich V, Kalakonda S, Ivanova S, Pereira EFR, Andharvarapu S, Zhang J, Simard JM, Zhao RY. HIV-1 Vpr-Induced Proinflammatory Response and Apoptosis Are Mediated through the Sur1-Trpm4 Channel in Astrocytes. mBio. 2020 Dec 8;11(6):e02939-20. doi: 10.1128/mBio.02939-20.

Jin H, Du Z, Zhang Y, Antal J, Xia Z, Wang Y, Gao Y, Zhao X, Han X, Cheng Y, Shen Q, Zhang K, Elder RE, Benko Z, Fenyvuesvolgyi C, Li G, Rebello D, Li J, Bao S, Zhao RY, Wang D. A distinct class of plant and animal viral proteins that disrupt mitosis by directly interrupting the mitotic entry switch Wee1-Cdc25-Cdk1. Science Advances 2020 May 13;6(20):eaba3418. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aba3418.

Li, G., M. Poulsena, C. Fenyvuesvolgyia, Y. Yashirodaf, M. Yoshidaf, J.M. Simard, R. C. Gallo, and R.Y. Zhao. 2017. Characterization of cytopathic factors through genome-wide analysis of the Zika viral proteins in fission yeast. Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, USA. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1619735114.

Li G, Bos S, Tsetsarkin KA, Pletnev AG, Desprès P, Gadea G, Zhao R.Y. The Roles of prM-E proteins in historical and epidemic Zika virus-mediated infection and neurocytotoxicity. Viruses. 2019 Feb 14;11(2). pii: E157. doi: 10.3390/v11020157.

Benko Z, Liang, D., Li, G., Elder RT, Sarkar, A., Takayama, J., Ghosh, A.K., and R.Y. Zhao. 2017. Fission yeast cell-based system for multidrug resistant HIV-1 proteases. Cell and Bioscience. doi:10.1186/s13578-016-0131-5.

Additional Publication Citations

Zhao, R.Y. Yeast for virus research (an invited review article that is featured on the journal cover). Microbial Cell. 4(10):311-330. PMID: 29082230

Benko Z, Elder RT, Li G, Liang D, and Y. Zhao. 2016. HIV-1 Protease in the Fission Yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe. PLoS One. Mar 16;11(3):e0151286. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0151286.

Nkeze, J., L. Li, Z. Benko, G. Li and Y. Zhao. 2015. Molecular Characterization of HIV-1 Genome in Fission Yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe. Cell and Bioscience. Aug 25;5:47. doi: 10.1186/s13578-015-0037-7. doi: 10.1186/s13578-015-0037-7. PMID: 26309721

Yang, L., C. Jiang, S. Hu, Q, Diao, J. Li, W. Si, M. Chen, and R.Y. Zhao. 2016. Evolving Diversity of Hepatitis C Viruses in Yunnan Honghe, China. International Journal of Molecular Science. Mar 18;17(3). pii: E403. doi: 10.3390/ijms17030403.

Zhao, R.Y*. and M.I. Bukrinsky*. 2014.  HIV-1 accessary protein: VpR.  Methods in Molecular Biology. 125-134. (*, co-corresponding authors)

Zhao, R.Y., G. Li, and M. Bukrinsky. 2011. Vpr-host interactions during HIV-1 viral life cycle.  Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology. 6(2):216-29.

Zhang, J*., Fu, Y.; Li, G., Lakowicz, J.R., R.Y. Zhao*. 2011. Fluorescent metal nanoshell and CK19 detection on single cell image. Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communication. 413(1):53-7. (*, co-corresponding authors)

Zhao, R.Y., D. Liang, G. Li, C.W. Larrimore, and B.L. Mirkin. 2010. Anti-cancer effect of HIV-1 viral protein R on doxorubicin resistant neuroblastoma.  PLoS One. 5(7):e11466.

Li, G., R.T. Elder, L. Dubrovsky, D. Liang, T. Pushkarsky, K. Chiu, T. Fan, J. Sire, M. Bukrinsky, and R.Y. Zhao. 2010.  HIV-1 replication through hHR23A-mediated interaction of Vpr with 26S proteasome. PLoS One. 5(6):e11371.

Li, G., H.U. Park, D. Liang, and R.Y. Zhao. 2010.  Cell cycle G2/M arrest through an S phase-dependent mechanism by HIV-1 viral protein R.  Retrovirology. 7:59.

Benko, Z.,R.T. Elder, D. Liang, and R.Y. Zhao. 2010. Fission yeast as a HTS platform for new molecular probes of HIV-1 Vpr-induced cell death and apoptosis. International Journal of High Throughput Screenings. 2010:1:151-162.

Carr, J., B. A. Osinusi, C. Flynn, B. Gilliams,  V. Maheshwari, and R.Y. Zhao. 2010. Two independent epidemics of HIV in Maryland. Journal of AIDS. 54(3):297-303.

Qin, K., L. Zhao, R.D. Ash, W.F. McDough, R.Y. Zhao. 2009. ATM-mediated transcriptional elevation of prion to copper-induced oxidative stress. Journal of Biological Chemistry. 284(7):4582-93.

Li, G., M. Bukrinsky and R.Y. Zhao. 2009. HIV-1 Viral protein R (Vpr) and its interactions with the host cell. Current HIV Research. 7(2):178-83.

Huard, S. R.T. Elder, D. Liang, G. Li and R.Y. Zhao. 2008. HIV-1 Vpr induces cell cycle G2 arrest through Srk1/MK2-mediated phosphorylation of Cdc25. Journal of Virology 82(6):2904-2917.

Huard, S., M. Chen, K.E. Burdette, C. Fenyvuesvolgyi, M. Yu, R.T. Elder, R.Y. Zhao. 2008. HIV-1 Vpr-induced cell death is reminiscent of apoptosis in Schizosaccharomyces pombe. Cell Research. 18:961-973.

Li, L., J.Y. Li and R.Y. Zhao. 2008. APOBEC3G-UBA2 fusion as a potential strategy for stable expression of APOBEC3G and inhibition of HIV-1 replication. Retrovirology. 5:72.

Li, G., R.T. Elder, K. Qin, H.U. Park, D. Liang and R.Y. Zhao. 2007. PP2A-dependent and independent ATR phosphorylation of Chk1. 2007. Journal of Biological Chemistry. 282 (10)7287-7298.

Liang, D., Z, Benko, E. Agbottah, L. Taricani, P.G. Young, M. Bukrinsky, and R.Y. Zhao. 2007. Anti-vpr activities of heat shock protein 27. Molecular Medicine 13(5-6):229-239.

Benko, Z., D. Liang, E. Agbottah, J. Hou, L. Taricani, P. Reed, P.G. Young, M. Bukrinsky, and R.Y. Zhao. 2007. Antagonistic interaction of HIV-1 Vpr with Hsf-mediated cellular heat shock response and Hsp16 activation in fission yeast (Schizosaccharomyces pombe). Retrovirology. 4(16):1742-1755.

Zelivianski, S, D. Liang, M. Chen, B. L. Mirkin, R.Y. Zhao. 2006. Suppressive Effect of Elongation Factor 2 on Apoptosis Induced by HIV-1 Viral Protein R. Apoptosis. 11(3):377-88.

Zhang, Y., Qin, K., Wang, J., Hung, T.*, and R. Y. Zhao*. 2006. Dividing Roles of Prion Protein in Staurosporine-mediated Apoptosis. Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communication, 349(2):759-768. (*, co-corresponding author)

Qin, K. L. Zhao, Y. Tang, S. Bhatta, J. M. Simard, R.Y. Zhao. 2006. Doppel-induced apoptosis and counteraction by cellular prion protein in neuroblastoma and astrocytes. Neuroscience. 141(3):1375-1388.

Qin, K., M. O’Donnell, and R.Y. Zhao. 2006. Doppel: More Rival than Double to Prion. Neuroscience. 141(1):1-8.

Zhao, R.Y. 2005. HIV/AIDS in China: an editorial overview. In: “HIV/AIDS in China” R.Y. Zhao (ed.). Cell Research. 15(11-12):821-822. (A special journal issue)

Benko, Z., D. Liang, E. Agbottah, J. Hou, K. Chiu, M. Yu, S. Innis, P. Reed, W. Kabat, R.T. Elder, P. Di Marzio, Ratner, P.G. Young, M. Bukrinsky and R. Y. Zhao. 2004. Anti-Vpr activity of a yeast chaperone protein. Journal of Virology. 78(20):11016-11029.

Bukrinsky, M. and Y. Zhao. 2004. Heat-shock proteins reverse the G2 arrest caused by HIV-1 viral protein R. DNA and Cell Biology. 23(4):223-5.

Elder, R.T., Song, X-q, M. Chen, K.M. Hopkins, H.B. Lieberman and Y. Zhao. 2002. Involvement of Rhp23, a S. pombe homologue of the Human HHR23A and S. cerevisiae RAD23 nucleotide excision repair genes, in cell cycle control and protein ubiquintination.Nucleic Acid Research, 30(2):581-591.

Elder, R.T., M. Yu, M. Chen, X. Zhu, M. Yanagida and Y. Zhao. 2001.HIV-1 Vpr induces G2 arrest in fission yeast (Schizosaccharomyces pombe) through a pathway involving regulatory and catalytic subunits of PP2A and acting on both Wee1 and Cdc25. Virology 287:359-370.

Chen, M., Elder, R. T., Yu, M., O’Gorman, M., Selig, L., Benarous, R., Yamamoto, A., and Zhao, Y. 1999. Mutational analysis of Vpr-induced G2 arrest, nuclear localization and cell death in fission yeast. Journal of Virology 73:3236-3245.

Zhao, Y., M.Yu, M.Z. Chen, R.T. Elder, A. Yamamoto and J. Cao. 1998. Pleiotropic effects of HIV-1 protein R (Vpr) on morphogenesis and cell survival in fission yeast and antagonism by pentoxifylline. Virology 246:266-276.

Zhao, Y., J. Cao, M. R.G. O’Gorman, Min Yu and R. Yogev. 1996.  Effect of human immunodeficiency virus Type 1 protein R (vpr) gene expression on basic cellular functions of fission yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe. Journal of Virology 70(9):5821-5826.

Zhao, Y. and H.B. Lieberman.  1995.  Schizosaccharomyces pombe:  a model system for molecular studies of eukaryotic genes.  DNA and Cell Biology 14(5):359-371.

Research Interests

Dr. Richard Zhao’s basic science research interest is in the areas of HIV/AIDS, Zika virus and anticancer therapies. Specifically, his laboratory conducts research to study virus-host interactions, cell cycle regulation and high throughput drug screening, testing and development. Dr. Zhao uses a unique approach in his research by combining the tools of molecular biology, fission yeast (Schizosaccharomyces pombe) genetics, mammalian biology and virology into a single theme. Such a distinctive combination of tools often give rise to unique perspectives of scientific findings that are otherwise difficult to obtain based solely on a single approach or organism.

Dr. Zhao’s clinical science research expertise is in the areas of gene-based diagnostics, translational genomics and individualized molecular testing for precision medicine.

Awards and Affiliations

  • Elected fellow, American Academy of Microbiology (AAM), 2019
  • Bernard L Mirkin, PH.D,M.D Endowed Research Scholar Chair, Chicago Memorial Institute for Education and Research, Northwestern University Feinberg school of Medicine Chicago, 2001-2004
  • Honorary Director, the Shandong Gallo Institute Academy of Medical Sciences, Shandong, China 2009
  • Distinguished Service, The Society of Chinese Bio Scientist in America (SCBA), 2015
  • Outstanding Service Award , the Chinese Biophamaceutical Association, USA (CBA-USA), 2016

In the News

Cytopathic effects of Zika virus proteins. Jan. 6, 2017. Highlights from Early Editions, the Proceedings of American Academy of Sciences, USA:

How Zika Leads to Fetal Brain Abnormalities. Jan. 17, 2017 by Jessica Wapner, Newsweek:

Maryland researchers identify proteins in Zika linked to birth defects. Jan. 2, 2017 by Andrea K.McDaniels, BaltimoreSun:

For the first time, researchers identify key proteins that may make Zika so deadly: Scientists identify 7 proteins as likely suspects. Jan. 2, 2017. Science Daily:

Scientists identified seven cytotoxic Zika proteins. Jan. 11, 2017. By Lin Xiaochun. China Xinhua News:

For the First Time, Researchers Identify Key Proteins That May Make Zika So Deadly (2017). University of Maryland School of Medicine:

Personalized Medicine a Reality at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (2013) University of Maryland School of Medicine:

Professional Activity

Editorial Services

  • Current HIV Research, 2018-present
  • Pathogens, 2020-present
  • Frontiers in Microbiology (Virology), 2010-2020; 2021-present (Associate Editor)
  • Retrovirology, 2006-present
  • Honorary Editorial Member, International Journal of High Throughput Screening, 2009-2016
  • Cell and Bioscience, 2010-present
  • PLoS One (Academic Editor ), 2012-present
  • Microbial Cell, 2014-present

Previous Positions

Associate Professor (Tenured)
Department of Pathology (Primary)
Department of Microbiology-Immunology (Secondary)
Institute of Human Virology (Tertiary)
School of Medicine
University of Maryland Baltimore (UMB) ,2004.9-2011

Assistant Professor
Department of Pediatrics (Primary)
Department of Microbiology-Immunology (Secondary)
Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine (NUFSM)  Chicago,  1994-2003

Associate Research Scientist
Research Assistant  Professor
College of Physicians and Surgeons , Columbia University, 1993-1994

Postdoctoral  Research Scientist
Department of Radiation Oncology, Center for Radiological Research
College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, 1991-1992