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Department of Molecular Biology

College of Agriculture and Natural Resources

Current Projects

NK cell function during parasitic infection: NK cells are required for early control of many infections including T. gondii. Surface receptors expressed by these cells help regulate their activation through target cell recognition and via inflammatory cytokine signaling pathways. Our goals are 1) to understand the molecular interplay between signaling events downstream of different surface receptors on NK cells during infection, 2) identify and define novel gene functions in the regulation of NK cell responsiveness to parasitic disease and 3) how these pathways coordinate to develop effective early immunity. By dissecting these pathways we will identify novel ways to enhance NK cell responses to improve immunotherapies for immune-compromised and cancer bearing individuals.

T. gondii-host interactions: A highly complex molecular relationship exists between T. gondii and the invaded host cell. This interaction seems to purposefully induce robust immunity while simultaneously promote parasite immune escape and evasion. Many pathogens including viruses have capitalized on this highly conserved strategy resulting in enhanced persistence and dissemination. Secreted T. gondii derived factors are known to participate in this process with very few being well understood. We will use fundamental biochemical, cellular and molecular approaches to dissect how parasite factors manipulate the host cell for the pathogens benefit. These studies will allow us to better understand parasite biology and discover novel therapeutic targets to reduce the morbidity and mortality associated with this and other devastating infectious diseases.

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