Pathogenesis of Toxoplasma gondii infections
Our current research on parasitic infections integrates immunology with molecular parasitology to understand how obligate intracellular parasites evade and direct host immune systems to their own advantage. The research aims to define the pathogenic mechanisms utilized by the opportunistic human pathogen Toxoplasma gondii and related apicomplexan parasites (malaria, cryptosporidium) to promote colonization and transmission of infection.
The precise mechanisms leading to systemic dissemination of parasites (acute infection) and life-long persistence (chronic infection) in the human host remain poorly understood. We have recently discovered that intracellular T. gondii hijack dendritic cells by inducing a hyper-migratory phenotype that potentiates dissemination while avoiding clearance. Findings on the migratory pathways of Toxoplasma contributed to the identification of a novel family of parasite-derived serine-threonine kinases with a strong association to virulence.
The processes of systemic dissemination and persistence are studied using various imaging modalities, including in vivo biophotonic imaging in animal models. Understanding the immune evasion strategies utilized by Toxoplasma may provide key elements of pathogenesis and on the rationale for designing future treatments and vaccines.
Keywords: Parasitology, host-pathogen interactions, dendritic cells, biophotonic imaging