The main goal of our research is to better understand how microbes communicate with their hosts at mucosal surfaces. To achieve this goal, our interdisciplinary approach is to address questions related to microbial pathogenesis, regulation of gene expression in the host cells, and communication between the nervous system, the immune system, and the gut microbiota.
Financial support for our work provided by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, private institutions, and private donors.
Bacteria have evolved ways to counter host defense strategies, and to survive within the hostile environment of the host. Better understanding of such virulence mechanisms holds great promise for the treatment of infectious diseases. In addition, by understanding how bacteria manipulate host defenses, we can learn more about such defenses - and how to increase them or decrease them to treat infections or inflammation.
Innate Host Defense
The first line of defense against infections is a set of defense mechanisms that are effective within each cell at mucosal barriers, like the intestine or the lungs. When these mechanisms fail, the whole organism is at increased risk of infection. When these mechanisms are overactive, the organism falls prey to chronic inflammation and autoimmunity. Fundamental understanding of innate host defense holds the key for new treatments for inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.
The nervous system, composed of the brain, spine, and peripheral nerves, is in constant back-and-forth communication with the innate immune system, in ways that we are only beginning to understand. The gut microbiota plays a huge role in setting the tone of the immune system - and thus influences the nervous system and its regulation of mood and behavior. Understanding the ways by which the nervous system controls our immune system can shed light on how stress and nervous system disorders change the normal function of our immune defenses for better or worse.