My laboratory investigates vector-borne diseases. Studies are directed toward understanding Lyme disease, human granulocytic ehrlichiosis, and West Nile virus. Efforts on Lyme disease include exploring immunity to Borrelia burgdorferi, selective B. burgdorferi gene expression in vivo, and the immunobiology of Lyme arthritis. Human granulocytic ehrlichiosis is caused by a newly described pathogen, transmitted by Ixodes scapularis ticks, that persists within neutrophils. We are investigating the molecular strategies that this pathogen uses to survive in polymorphonuclear leukocytes. West Nile virus can cause fatal encephalitis, and we seek to understand the pathogenesis of this emerging disease. Finally, we are also developing molecular approaches to prevent ticks from feeding on a mammalian host, thereby interfering with pathogen transmission.
As an Innovation Fund investigator, Fikrig and his lab are teaming up with the lab of Christine Jacobs-Wagner, Ph.D., to investigate the intricate relationship between the Lyme disease bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and the arachnid that carries it: the tick. They hypothesize that a component of the B. burgdorferi cell envelope influences the ability of ticks to tolerate the bacteria and pass them to animals. This team will combine Jacobs-Wagner’s expertise on bacterial physiology and the genetic tools to study bacteria with Fikrig’s work on the immunological response to tick-borne diseases to identify the bacterial products and the tick genes that are important for the bacteria’s successful colonization in the tick and subsequent transmission to animals. This work could broaden the current understanding of this unique pathogen-host relationship and spur new strategies to combat tick-borne diseases.