UConn Health assistant professor of immunology Dr. Vijay Rathinam has received a $2 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. His project will provide an important understanding of a key mechanism that drives the body’s inflammatory responses.
The body has a complex, efficient immune system to protect us from illness and infection. When the body encounters a pathogen, it initiates an inflammatory response to find and destroy the invader. When the body picks up on a “danger signal” it sends out instructions for a multiprotein complex known as inflammasomes to assemble. The inflammasomes activate inflammatory caspases, enzymes in charge of executing the programmed cell death of infected cells. Thus, inflammatory caspases detect infections and direct the elimination of pathogenic cells.
Inflammasomes also play a key role in inflammatory diseases such as sepsis, a potentially life-threatening condition in which the body’s immune response is out of balance and can cause damage to multiple organs. Despite decades-long efforts to develop specific drugs to combat sepsis, it remains a major life-threatening condition that kills nearly 270,000 Americans every year according to the Center for Disease Control.
A new player in how cells communicate with each other normally and during infections is extracellular vesicles. Our cells release these miniscule membrane-bound cells to transport proteins, genetic materials, and lipids between cells.
Rathinam’s project will fill in the critical knowledge gap regarding what impact extracellular vesicles have on the inflammatory caspases. His project will investigate the molecular and cellular mechanisms through which these vesicles regulate the activation and function of inflammatory caspases.
This research will allow scientists to move one step closer to putting a key piece of the puzzle of inflammation responses into place by revealing a new fundamental role for host-derived extracellular vesicles.
“These findings will advance our knowledge of how inflammation develops in the body, which will have important implications for human infectious diseases,” Rathinam says. “This research will also allow us to understand the factors that impact chronic inflammation underlying sterile non-infectious diseases.”
Rathinam holds a D.V.M from Madras Veterinary College, India and a Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology from Michigan State University and received postdoctoral training at University of Massachusetts Medical School. His research efforts focus on understanding the immunological basis of infections and inflammatory diseases.
This project is NIH Grant No.: 1R01AI148491