Chlamydial intracellular survival strategies
My lab is interested in the complex interplay between bacterial pathogens and host cells. In particular, we study two important human pathogens, Chlamydia trachomatis and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Our strengths include using multidisciplinary approaches to these studies—allowing the pathogen to be our tutor. We have utilized bacterial genetics and genetic screens, molecular biology, cellular microbiology, host cell biology with advanced immunofluorescence microscopy, genome-wide RNAi screens, bioinformatics, and proteomics to rigorously understand the mechanisms by which they subvert host cell functions to cause disease. Seminal contributions that our group has made include (i) the discovery of the P. aeruginosa type III secretion system and one of the secreted effectors ExoU and the demonstration that the P. aeruginosa type III secretion system is important for virulence in cell-culture, mouse, and human infections (ii) demonstrating that the type III secreted toxin ExoT inhibits wound repair through redundant pathways (iii) elucidation of the pathway by which P. aeruginosa can be internalized by non-phagocytic cells and how the type III secretion system-encoded effectors modulate entry (iv) characterization of novel genes involved in type IV pilin biogenesis and in the regulation of diverse virulence pathways (v) the first identification of a host cell ubiquitin ligase (cbl-b) that specifically targets the degradation of a type III secreted factor (vii) development of 2D and 3D cell-culture based systems to dissect the interaction of pathogens with the apical versus basolateral surface of polarized epithelial cells (vi) discovery that P. aeruginosa is able to transform apical membrane into basolateral membrane by exploiting the phosphatidyl inositol kinase pathway (viii) application of host cell biology and genome-wide RNA-based screens to understanding how C. trachomatis modulates host cell signaling systems to bind, enter, and establish a replicative niche. We have carried out a genome wide RNAi screen in a simple genetic host and have identified new host molecules that are involved in binding, entry, and establishment of a unique intracellular niche. We have discovered a potential role for host growth factors in binding and entry and elucidated a novel pathway by which this organism acquires sphingolipids from the host. We have complemented these studies with state of the art confocal microscopy to begin to elucidate the bacterial and host determinants and mechanism of vacuole fusion. We are currently carrying out high throughput proteomics to dissect the function of the approximately 150 proteins that Chlamydia inject into the host cell to create a unique replicative niche and to escape the innate immune response.