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Welcome to the Fikrig Lab

The Fikrig laboratory focuses on arthropod-borne infectious diseases. We examine the relationships between pathogens, the vectors that carry them, and the hosts they infect. This information is used to (a) develop new ways to disrupt these interactions, (b) interfere with pathogen transmission and (c) generate new types of vaccines. Borrelia, Anaplasma, Flaviviruses and Plasmodium are the microbes that we study, and ticks and mosquitoes are the main arthropods that we target.

Our laboratory is interested in how pathogens use arthropod products to facilitate infection of the mammalian host. For example, as Borrelia burgdorferi, the Lyme disease agent, migrate from ticks to humans, the spirochetes influence the expression of tick salivary gland genes. B. burgdorferi then uses some of these tick proteins, directly or indirectly, to evade the mammalian host responses. These discoveries help support the paradigm that microbes use arthropod molecules to successfully infect the vertebrate host: a triangular interaction at the ephemeral pathogen-vector-host interface that occurs while an arthropod is taking a blood meal. We are expanding this concept to other tick-borne infectious agents, including Anaplasma phagocytophilum (the agent of human granulocytic anaplasmosis) and Powassan virus (a flavivirus), and mosquito-borne pathogens such as West Nile, Zika and Dengue viruses (all flaviviruses) and Plasmodium falciparum (which causes malaria). We are developing techniques to identify the entire panel of vector genes that are induced or repressed by pathogens, and assays to delineate the complete profile of arthropod proteins that microbes adhere to, or otherwise interact with. We are also assessing the immune response to these pathogens at the bite site, and examining how the vectors and pathogens influence the immune response. Understanding these interactions may lead to new ways to interrupt the life cycle of arthropod-borne pathogens and new vaccine strategies against these diseases.