Microbial Pathogenesis

Microbial Pathogenesis is the study of the molecular mechanisms used by microbes to cause disease in humans and animals. Bacterial, protozoan, fungal and viral pathogens have evolved a wide variety of tools to establish themselves in the host and gain nutrients, which also cause damage and disease. Other mechanisms of pathogenesis include host defense evasion. To understand the complex processes used by microbial pathogens, microbiologists employ all the tools of modern molecular biology, genetics, biochemistry and biophysics. Understanding how microbes cause disease is often the first step toward the development of new therapeutic approaches.

Microorganisms and viruses can also interact with host cells to induce alterations in cellular phenotype and function in order to subvert host cell metabolism to meet their own needs. Some microbes and viruses exert effects on the host immune response in order to evade host immune control. Understanding the interplay between infectious pathogens and their host cells is important in order to identify potential new targets for drug therapy.

Opportunities for research training in Microbial Pathogenesis at VCU are provided by an interactive group of well funded investigators from several departments including Microbiology & Immunology. Research activities are enhanced by state of the art facilities for DNA sequence analysis, molecular biology supplies, and electron microscopy. Researchers here are studying a wide array of infectious organisms including:

  • Bacterial Pathogens ( Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, Pseudomonas , obligate anaerobes, spirochetes, gonococci)
  • Protozoan Pathogens (free-living amebae, trypanosomes)
  • Viral Pathogens (herpes simplex virus, cytomegalovirus, hepatitis B virus and bacteriophage)
  • Fungal Pathogens (Cryptococcus, Pneumocystis)

The Interdisciplinary Program in Molecular Microbial Pathogenesis builds on the graduate programs of each department. Students completing the program through the Department of Microbiology & Immunology will also have a strong foundation in biochemistry, molecular biology, genetics and infectious diseases.

NIH Training Grant Supported

An NIH Training Grant (PI: Dr. Dennis Ohman) for pre- and postdoctoral students supports the most outstanding students for "Training in Molecular Pathogenesis of Microbial Diseases."

Microbiology & Immunology Primary Faculty

  • Gregory A. Buck, Ph.D.
    Microbial genomics, molecular parasitology and pathogenicity, gene expression and RNA maturation.
  • Jason A. Carlyon, Ph.D.
    Anaplasma phagocytophilum pathogenesis - adhesion, invasion, intracelluar survival; bacterial subversion of host cell functions; host-pathogen interactions; intracellular bacterial pathogenesis.
  • Gail E. Christie, Ph.D.
    Role of bacteriophages in microbial evolution and pathogenesis; regulation of prokaryotic gene expression; RNA polymerase structure and function.
  • Phillip B. Hylemon, Ph.D.
    Steroid metabolism by intestinal anaerobic gut bacteria, regulation of cholesterol and bile acid synthesis in hepatocyte monolayer cultures.
  • Kimberly K. Jefferson, Ph.D.
    Bacterial gene expression and adaptation. Biofilm formation in Staphylococcus aureus.
  • Francine Marciano-Cabral, Ph.D.
    Pathogenic protozoa, parasite-host interactions; parasite-immunology, host resistance mechanisms in protozoan and viral infections.
  • Richard T. Marconi, Ph.D.
    Infectious diseases and host-pathogen interactions: molecular pathogenesis of Lyme disease, replapsing fever and other arthropod borne diseases.
  • Dennis E. Ohman, Ph.D.
    Molecular mechanisms of pathogenesis in Pseudomonas aeruginosa; capsule biosynthesis; regulation of virulence gene expression; processing and secretion of proteases; bacterial stress-response.
  • Huiping Zhou, Ph.D.
    The cellular/molecular mechanisms of HIV protease inhibitor-associated dysregulation of lipid metabolism and atherosclerosis.

Affiliate Faculty of Microbiology & Immunology

  • Harry D. Bear, M.D. - Surgical Oncology
    Tumor immunology, suppressor T cells.
  • James C. Burns, DDS, Ph.D. - Chair of Oral Pathology
    Oral virology and oral cancer.
  • Todd Kitten, Ph.D. - Oral & Craniofacial Molecular Biology
    Microbiology and genomics of oral streptococci; pathogenesis of streptococcal endocarditis.
  • Janina Lewis, Ph.D. - Oral and Craniofacial Molecular Biology
  • Francis L. Macrina, Ph.D. - Oral & Craniofacial Molecular Biology
    Molecular mechanisms of pathogenesis in the human oral microbes viridans streptococci and anaerobic gram negative bacteria.
  • Michael McVoy, Ph.D. - Pediatrics
    Mechanisms of herpesvirus genome replication, genome cleavage and packaging.
  • Ping Xu, Ph.D. - Oral and Craniofacial Molecular Biology
    Genomics of pathogenic protozoans.

Courses Offered in Microbial Pathogenesis

  • MICR 515 Principles of Molecular Microbiology
  • MICR 618 Molecular Mechanisms of Microbial Pathogenesis
  • MICR 616 Viral and Protozoan Mechanisms of Pathogenesis
  • MICR 607 Techniques in Molecular Biology and Genetics.
  • MICR 605 Molecular Biology and Genetics.
  • MICR 653 Advanced Molecular Genetics
  • Microbial Pathogenesis Journal Club



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Department of Microbiology and Immunology Virginia Commonwealth University VCU Medical Center