New Scholar Award in Global Infectious Disease
B. Joseph Hinnebusch, Ph.D.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, National Institutes of Health

Mechanisms of Yersinia pestis transmission and pathogenicity

Yersinia pestis, the cause of bubonic and pneumonic plague in humans, is transmitted primarily by fleas and has been responsible for devastating pandemics throughout history, including the Black Death of fourteenth century Europe. Plague reemerged in India and Africa during the 1990s and remains an international public health concern. The isolation of antibiotic resistant strains of Y. pestis and the potential illegitimate release of Y. pestis by bioterrorists increases the urgency for better medical countermeasures against plague.

The first research goal is to identify and determine the function of Y. pestis genes that mediate flea-borne transmission. Detailed understanding of the interaction with the insect vector may lead to novel strategies to interrupt the transmission cycle, and may be applicable to other arthropod-borne agents. For example, determining the vector-specific antigens expressed on the Y. pestis surface as the bacteria exit the flea and enter the mammal may help in the design of new efficacious vaccines and diagnostics. A second goal is to establish flea-to-rodent transmission models in order to study the pathogenic mechanism of specific Y. pestis virulence factors and to characterize the host response to naturally acquired infection.

Contact Dr. Hinnebusch.