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Lung Cell Innate Immunity and Lung Infections

The principal area of research focuses to better understand the molecular mechanisms by which the predominant lung immune cells (alveolar macrophages) control and fight lung infections. The goal of the research is to exploit this knowledge to identify novel therapeutic targets to improve the health of individuals susceptible to recurrent or unusual lung infections (especially persons with compromised immune systems).

Investigations focus on the early events in the course of infection, at the time individuals are first exposed to an infectious agent. Studies seek to identify important molecules on the surface of lung immune cells which recognize threats to individuals, and how these molecules communicate these "danger signals" to these and other immune cells. Collectively, the family of immune cell surface molecules are referred to as pattern recognition molecules, and the type or combination of molecules activated by an infection determine the type and the direction of the subsequent immune response in health. Responses include activation of signal transduction pathways, gene activation and release of immune mediators. Investigations also seek to indentify molecular mechanisms of host cell response in health, and then to identify abbarent responses in immunocompromised hosts which may lead to susceptibility to frequent or severe lung infections. Work in the laboratory is particulary focused on HIV infection (the causative agent for AIDS) as a model for immunocompromised hosts, and investigations are specifically focused on opportunistic pathogens Pneumocystis carinii and Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Work is supported by funds from the National Instututes of Health.