John V. Williams, M.D.

  • Henry L. Hillman Endowed Chair in Pediatric Immunology
  • Chief, Division of Infectious Diseases
  • Professor of Pediatrics
  • Faculty Member, Graduate Programs in Molecular Virology and Microbiology and Immunology
  • Affiliate, Center for Vaccine Research

John V. Williams joined the division as chief in April 2015 after 12 years on the faculty at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Dr. Williams is an international authority on the epidemiology, immunity, and pathogenesis of respiratory viruses. The focus of his laboratory’s research is the pathogenesis and immunity of human metapneumovirus (HMPV) and other respiratory viruses. 

The work in Dr. Williams’ laboratory has explored multiple aspects of HMPV, including epidemiology of HMPV. His laboratory discovered that RGD-binding integrins are receptors for cellular entry of HMPV via endocytosis and identified the HMPV fusion protein as the sole target of protective antibodies. Williams’ work has led to vaccine candidates and antibodies. In recent years, his laboratory found that HMPV and other acute respiratory viral infections cause impairment of lung CD8+ T cells via PD-1 signaling, a pathway that had previously been associated with chronic infections and cancer. 

He is a graduate of the University of Virginia and completed medical school at the Medical College of Virginia/Virginia Commonwealth University. He trained in pediatrics at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh/ University of Pittsburgh and then in infectious diseases at Vanderbilt. 

He has authored or co-authored more than 150 original articles, reviews, and chapters about his research, which is supported in large part by grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). He is a member of several editorial boards. He has been an active mentor of students, residents, and fellows. He has been recognized for his teaching and research accomplishments with the Society for Pediatric Research E. Mead Johnson Award, the Mary Ann and John Hash Award for Outstanding Teaching of Graduate Students in Microbiology and Immunology, and the inaugural Caroline B. Hall Award for Translational Research from the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society.

Major Lectureships and Seminars

  • 2014    “Human Metapneumovirus: Golden Oldie or New Kid on the Block?” invited talk, Society for General Microbiology Annual Conference, Liverpool, UK
  • 2015    “Why Pulmonary CD8+ T cells Won’t Fight, Fight, Fight for Iowa” Department of Immunology Symposium, University of Iowa, Cedar Rapids, IA
  • 2015    “Human Metapneumovirus: Turning Strengths into Weaknesses” Molecular Microbiology & Microbial Pathogenesis Seminar, Washington University in St Louis, St. Louis, MO
  • 2015    “Human Metapneumovirus Prevention and Therapy”. Invited presentation, 31st Annual Clinical Virology Symposium, Daytona Beach, FL
  • 2015    “CD8+ T Cell Impairment During Respiratory Virus Infection “Southeastern Immunology Symposium, Atlanta, GA
  • 2015    “Human Metapneumovirus - from Kids with Colds to Conundrums and Cures”. Caroline B. Hall award lecture, ID Week, San Diego, CA
  • 2016    “Human Metapneumovirus and T Cell Impairment:  The Pause that Refreshes”. Center for Childhood Infections and Vaccines Annual Symposium, Atlanta, GA
  • 2016    “Human Metapneumovirus and Pulmonary T Cells: Learned Helplessness or Studied Indifference?” Lung Biology Research Seminar Series, University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, NY
  • 2016    “Human Metapneumovirus: Weakness of Memory or a Memory of Weakness?" Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Columbus, OH
  • 2016    “Human Metapneumovirus: Sneaking in Through the Side Door" Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Columbus, OH
  • 2016    “Human Metapneumovirus: from Discovery to Disruption”, John M. Adams Memorial Lecture, Department of Pediatrics, David Geffen School of Medicine, at UCLA
  • 2016    “Human metapneumovirus: the end of the beginning”, Pediatric Grand Rounds, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA
  • 2017    “Human metapneumovirus: from Holland to the Bronx”, Pediatric Grand Rounds, Children's Hospital at Montefiore, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, NY, NY
  • 2017    “Violets Are Blue: Human Metapneumovirus Pneumonia”, Saul Krugman Memorial Lecture, Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital of New York, NYU Langone Medical Center
  • 2017    “Human metapneumovirus: haciendo tos de Buenos Aires” Invited talk, Fundación INFANT, Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • 2017    “Human Metapneumovirus: The Acute Takes a Page from the Chronic” invited talk, American Society for Virology Annual Meeting, Madison, WI
  • 2018    “Respiratory viruses in hematopoietic stem cell transplant recipients”, invited talk, 7th Annual Congress of the Argentina Society of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Professional Affiliations/Society Memberships 

  • Alpha Omega Alpha
  • Society for Pediatric Research
  • American Association of Immunologists
  • American Society for Virology
  • Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society
  • Infectious Diseases Society of America
  • American Society for Microbiology
  • American Association for the Advancement of Science

Education & Training

  • Medical School: Medical College of Virginia/ Virginia Commonwealth University
  • Residency: University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
  • Fellowship: Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Representative Publications

Research Interests

The focus of Williams’ research is the basic and clinical investigation of respiratory viruses. A major area of investigation is the immunity and pathogenesis of human MPV. MPV is a recently discovered paramyxovirus that is a leading cause of acute lower respiratory tract illness in infants and children worldwide. Williams published molecular epidemiologic studies establishing the importance of MPV, in the process isolating dozens of field strains collected over 20 years. His team developed rodent models, used those systems to study MPV immunity and pathogenesis, and showed that the fusion (F) protein is the sole determinant of antibody-mediated protection. Williams’ group identified RGD-binding integrins as receptors for MPV and showed that MPV uses integrins to enter cells by endocytosis, a novel mechanism of entry for this type of virus. His laboratory discovered that MPV and other acute respiratory viral infections cause impairment of lung CD8+ T cells via PD-1 signaling, a pathway previously associated with chronic infections and cancer. Williams’ laboratory has generated candidate vaccines and monoclonal antibodies against MPV and identified mechanisms by which MPV subverts the host innate immune response.

Williams also leads a large CDC-funded surveillance study of acute respiratory and gastrointestinal infections in children based at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, one of only seven sites nationally. He conducts collaborative research with clinical investigators at the University of Pittsburgh and international sites. He has participated in studies of respiratory virus epidemiology in North America, South America, the Middle East, and Africa. His group has published studies on coronaviruses, influenza virus, MPV, parainfluenza viruses, respiratory syncytial virus, and rhinoviruses in diverse populations.