Pathogenic microbes have evolved a large array of adaptations that allow them to survive and proliferate in the human host environment. The laboratory is focusing on Candida albicans, a commensal organism of human epithelia that also constitutes the most common systemic fungal pathogen. Systemic Candida infections are increasingly prevalent among immunosuppressed patients. Current research in the lab focuses on two distinct adaptations of this organism to the host environment:
- The ability to extract iron from host hemoglobin. We have identified a network of specialized cell surface heme-binding proteins that extract heme from hemoglobin and transfer it across the cell wall into the cell. We anticipate that molecular understanding of the factors required for Candida albicans virulence will lead ultimately to new ways to combat fungal infection.
- The ability to switch between yeast and mold morphologies, enabling Candida albicans to spread, attach and penetrate host tissues. Following our identification of a role for phosphorylation and ubiquitin-mediated degradation in the suppression of this morphogenetic switch, we are now investigating additional cellular targets that may be used to inhibit the switch from yeast to mold.
Candida albicans growing as yeast
Candida albicans growing as hyphae (mold)