Thomas Christopher Zahrt, PhD
Microbiology and Molecular Genetics
Medical College of Wisconsin
Research Focus: Bacterial Pathogenesis and Host-Cell Interactions
PhD: University of Illinois, Urbana (1997) Microbiology
The ability of intracellular bacterial pathogens to sense and successfully respond to various environmental stimuli during an infection is essential for their survival and proliferation within the host. For example, many intracellular pathogens must persist in phagocytic cells of the host to cause disease, a normally hostile environment that is detrimental to the survival of most organisms. Research in my laboratory is focused on characterizing the regulatory mechanisms utilized by intracellular pathogens to establish, maintain, or reactivate from infection in the host. To investigate these mechanisms, my laboratory studies the host-pathogen interactions of Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
Tuberculosis is the leading cause of death in the world from a single infectious agent and is responsible for more than 3 million deaths worldwide annually. The high mortality rate in individuals infected with the causative agent, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, is due in part to the ability of the tubercle bacilli to parasitize alveolar macrophages, and establish long-term persistent infection in the host despite the presence of a cell-mediated immune response. Although the current anti-tubercular drug arsenal is effective in treating individuals suffering from active acute disease, these drugs are ineffective in treating the nearly 2 billion individuals that are latent carriers of M. tuberculosis, or that are infected with multi-drug resistant strains of M. tuberculosis.
Current research efforts in my laboratory are directed at characterizing the role that global regulatory systems play in the pathogenesis of these organisms. In particular, we are focused on those transcriptional regulators that mediate adaptation processes in response to stressful stimuli encountered during infection. The laboratory utilizes a combination of genetic and biochemical approaches to investigate the molecular mechanisms of these systems, as well as tissue culture and animal model systems of infection to investigate the physiological role of these systems in the context of M. tuberculosis pathogenesis. Collectively, the goal of these studies is to develop novel or improved vaccines that are capable of providing enhanced protection against infection with this agent.
Room: TBRC C3970