Innate immunity is the body's earliest response to infection. A group of specialized cells called professional antigen presenting cells (APCs) are highly phagocytic, and form a first line of defense against microbial pathogens. Innate defense mechanisms not only protect us against uncontrolled microbial dissemination, but also allow us the time necessary to mount an adaptive immune response specifically tailored to the invading pathogen. During this critical window of time, Toll-like receptors (TLRs) and other families of germ line-encoded pattern recognition receptors, initiate a network of important signal transduction pathways. TLRs recognize various structurally unrelated and evolutionarily conserved pathogen associated molecular patterns (PAMPs). Highly conserved among all species vertebrates and invertebrates alike, TLR signals are directly responsible for initiating the transcriptional activation of key immune response genes.
The Innate Immunity Research Program is interested in these very first steps of the innate immune response. We want to understand how innate immune signals influence the most fundamental cellular processes that have the highest impact on the course of the immune response. We study how APCs, namely macrophages and dendritic cells (DCs), respond to signals from TLRs to coordinate changes in endocytic traffic, gene transcription and cell survival. By elucidating how these cells successfully orchestrate the appropriate immune response, we can begin to identify breakpoints during disease and work towards finding solutions to mend them.
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