Innovative Research on Tick-Borne Diseases
Welcome to the Pal Lab, an interdisciplinary scientific laboratory based in the University of Maryland's Department of Veterinary Medicine at the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Our overall research focus is the biology of tick-borne infections, with a particular emphasis on Lyme disease and host-pathogen interactions, in the hopes of developing novel strategies for prevention and treatment.
The primary research focuses of the laboratory are the Borrelia burgdorferi pathogen, which is responsible for Lyme disease, and the Ixodes scapularis deer ticks that harbor and transmit the bacteria. This microbe persists in nature through a tick-rodent infection cycle, most commonly maintained by white-footed mice (Peromyscus leucopus). Incidental hosts of the tick - such as humans and many domesticated animals - can also be infected; in fact, Lyme disease is the most prevalent arthropod-borne illness in the United States, Europe, and parts of Asia. It is associated with an array of complex clinical complications, most commonly in the joints, heart, and central nervous system. Even with prompt antibiotic treatment, it can often leave long-lasting and debilitating effects.
In our ongoing efforts to understand the molecular mechanisms behind Lyme disease, we adopt multidimensional scholarly studies that incorporate the fields of microbiology, genomics, vector biology, immunology, molecular and cell biology, and structural biology, among others. We routinely employ cutting-edge genetic/genomic tools such as targeted mutagenesis via allelic exchange, systemic and tissue-specific RNAi, and genome editing in animals using CRISPR technology, along with various biochemical, biophysical, and molecular biology technologies.
We hope that our work will contribute to a better understanding of the microbial and vector biology of Lyme disease, as well as its infection process. Our ultimate goal is to support the development of new preventive or therapeutic strategies against Lyme disease, which are highly warranted to prevent and treat this infection across the globe.
CROSS-KINGDOM IMMUNE PATHWAYS IN TICKS
A major focus in our lab is tick immunobiology. We explore indirect immune responses and cross-kingdom signaling pathways within the tick (specifically, how the vector recognizes and controls the pathogen). We hope that a better understanding of pathogen persistence in the tick will inform new preventive or treatment plans.
GENOME SEQUENCING AND MANIPULATION
A genetic approach to Lyme disease (incorporating the studies of Borrelia, the tick, and its mammalian hosts) could enhance our knowledge of the cellular components that are critical to infection. By examining and manipulating the genome, we aim to identify potential targets for novel vaccines and therapeutic strategies.
DEVELOPMENT OF TICK IMMUNITY IN MAMMALIAN HOSTS
An interesting phenomenon known as "acquired tick immunity" has been observed in some incidental hosts of Lyme disease, like guinea pigs. Such animals exhibit some resistance to ticks after multiple bites. We are exploring the mechanisms behind this acquired tick immunity, as it presents promising opportunities for tick prevention and Lyme disease vaccines.