Welcome to the Department of MMI

The Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology's (MMI) mission is to maintain active and integrated research programs that study the interactions between microbes and their hosts. The goal is to understand how these influence the outcome of infection and disease progression. Current research interests in the department include understanding host signaling in response to viral infection, molecular mechanisms of NK and NK T cell activation, and molecular principles underlying fungal pathogenesis. This work provides an interdisciplinary structure for our training programs.

MMI supports undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral education in the areas of microbiology and immunology. Departmental instruction includes lecture courses, seminar courses, and laboratory research (both undergraduate independent study and graduate thesis). We foster collaborative studies within the department as well as with faculty in other departments, both on campus and hospital-based.

MMI News 

Microbial Metabolism Modulates Antibiotic Susceptibility within the Murine Gut Microbiome
Although antibiotics disturb the structure of the gut microbiota, factors that modulate these perturbations are poorly understood. Bacterial metabolism is an important regulator of susceptibility in vitro and likely plays a large role within the host. We applied a metagenomic and metatranscriptomic approach to link antibiotic-induced taxonomic and transcriptional responses within the murine microbiome. We found that antibiotics significantly alter the expression of key metabolic pathways at the whole-community and single-species levels.

Defining the Distinct Skin and Gut Microbiomes of the Northern Pike (Esox lucius)
The microbiome of freshwater fish has important implications for both commercial and recreational fishing because it can have significant impacts on host health, spoilage rates, and susceptibility to disease. The aqueous environment serves as a possible avenue for continuous introduction of microbes to an animal host, but little is known about how the surrounding microbiota contribute to piscine microbiomes. To better understand the composition of the fish microbiome exposed to the natural environment, we profiled the microbial composition of the gut and the skin mucosal surface (SMS) of northern pike (Esox lucius) and the surrounding river water.

Congratulations to Swathi Penumutchu who has received an NSF Fellowship Award for her work in the Belenky Lab!


Qa-1-Restricted CD8+ T Cells Can Compensate for the Absence of Conventional T Cells during Viral Infection
Anderson et al. describe a heterogenous population of non-classical CD8+ T cells responding to MCMV. Importantly, this population can protect mice from MCMVinduced lethality in the absence of other adaptive immune cells. Among the MHC class Ib-restricted CD8+ T cells responding, Qa-1-specific cells are required for protection.

Shp-2 is critical for ERK and metabolic engagementdownstream of IL-15 receptor in NK cells
The phosphatase Shp-2 was implicated in NK cell development and functions due to itsinteraction with NK inhibitory receptors, but its exact role in NK cells is still unclear. Here weshow, using mice conditionally deficient for Shp-2 in the NK lineage, that NK cell develop-ment and responsiveness are largely unaffected. Instead, wefind that Shp-2 serves mainly toenforce NK cell responses to activation by IL-15 and IL-2. Shp-2-deficient NK cells havereduced proliferation and survival when treated with high dose IL-15 or IL-2. Mechanistically,Shp-2 deficiency hampers acute IL-15 stimulation-induced raise in glycolytic and respirationrates, and causes a dramatic defect in ERK activation. Moreover, inhibition of the ERK andmTOR cascades largely phenocopies the defect observed in the absence of Shp-2. Together,our data reveal a critical function of Shp-2 as a molecular nexus bridging acute IL-15 signalingwith downstream metabolic burst and NK cell expansion.

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