Epithelial surfaces are living landscapes where microbes can colonize, alter, and communicate with the host. These interactions drive much of the evolution between our bodies and the microbial world. Our lab is interested in understanding how bacteria colonize and cause disease in the gastrointestinal tract and the skin by interacting with and modifying host epithelia. Our research has focused in particular on the epithelial junctions as a target for bacterial pathogens due to the importance of the cell-cell junctions in serving as both a barrier to infection and as a major regulator of many important cellular processes. We believe that elucidating how microbes alter our epithelial surfaces at a molecular level will not only lead to potential therapeutic targets to control infectious diseases, but will also inspire a new appreciation for our own human biology based on discoveries made by understanding the microbes.
We study a variety of important human bacterial pathogens to explore infection and host-pathogen interplay at the epithelial surface. To examine bacterial colonization and infection processes, we employ diverse experimental approaches, including in vitro polarized epithelial monolayers, ex vivo organotypic cultures, and in vivo animal models. We believe that a lot can be discovered by simply looking: Therefore, we regularly use diverse microscopy techniques to "spy" on bacteria interacting with host epithelia. Current projects in the lab are primarily focused on Helicobacter pylori infection of the stomach and Staphylococcus aureus skin infections.