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Kelly Smith, MD, PhD
The Smith Lab studies how the innate immune system detects microbes, and how the host-microbial interactions influence inflammation, tissue injury and immunity. One of the main focuses of the lab is the bacterial protein flagellin. Using infection models in mice we study how the innate immune system senses flagellin, and how this event contributes to host protection against infection. The primary pathogen that we are studying is Salmonella, which comes in two main varieties. Salmonella Typhi and paratyphi are relatively restricted to primate hosts and cause the disease enteric fever, which is endemic in several parts of the world (Typhoid fever). Non-typhodal Salmonella consist of a large number of strains of Salmonella enteriditis, and are common causes of diarrheal illnesses. Non-typhoidal Salmonella is also an emerging serious systemic infection in HIV and malaria endemic regions, and the emergence of new hyperviruelnt and multi-drug resistant strains pose future problems to control this infectious illness.
Flagellin is also a model antigen that has intrinsic adjuvant properties. Flagellin is currently being developed as an adjuvant and vaccine platform for human infectious diseases (http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/results?term=flagellin&Search=Search). Flagellin has two known sites that activate the innate immune system in rodents (Fig. 1). The D0 domain is sensed by Naip5/6 in rodents, which activates the inflammasome. The D1 domain binds TLR5 in all animals and activates NF-kB and MAP kinase signaling pathways. Activation of the innate immune system by flagellin contributes to its potent immunogenicity, and recently we have uncovered a novel pathway that is critical for flagellin-induced immune responses (Fig.1). Using the tools of protein engineering, we are dissecting the functional domains of flagellin and using this information to design recombinant fuision proteins to build vaccines against infectious diseases.