Pal, Utpal

Utpal Pal, PhD
Professor & Director, VMSC Graduate Program
Veterinary Medicine
University of Maryland
College Park , MD

Immune Evasion of Lyme Disease Agents

Dr. Utpal Pal, PhD, is a Professor and Director of Veterinary Medical Sciences graduate program at the University of Maryland, College Park. For more than two decades, Pal laboratory is studying the molecular mechanisms of microbial persistence, pathogenesis, vector biology and transmission events relevant to Lyme disease. This multi-system infection in human is caused by an atypical group of bacterial pathogens, Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato, which are transmitted by Ixodes ticks. Dr. Pal’s studies over the past decades have contributed in identifying the biological significance of several B. burgdorferi virulence determinants, roles of host or vector molecules in microbial pathogenesis and/or host-pathogen interaction as well as developing functional genomics and gene manipulations tools in Lyme borreliosis research. More recent discoveries from Pal laboratory included a recently identified interferon-like defense response in ticks as well as a novel immune evasion mechanism of B. burgdorferi. Collectively, these studies seek to contribute to the development of novel preventive and therapeutic interventions against serious illnesses that is highly prevalent in the globe.

To date, Dr. Pal has trained 10 doctoral students, 21 post-doctoral fellows and six junior/sabbatical faculty members in his laboratory — the majority of whom are engaged in various scientific and academic careers, including leadership positions. For the past two years, he is serving as the Director of Veterinary Medical Sciences Graduate program and an Investigator/Mentor on NIH training grants in the campus. Dr. Pal has authored more then 80 peer-reviewed research articles, and edited one book and four book chapters on B. burgdorferi. He has presented over 25 invited presentations on various aspects of Lyme disease and contributed as guest editor or editorial board members for seven journals. Research studies in Dr. Pal’s laboratory are funded by multiple sources, including Federal, State, Private organizations and Pharmaceutical Industry.

Conference Lecture Summary

Borrelia burgdorferi and related spirochetes cause Lyme disease, a prevalent tick-borne zoonosis. The pathogen displays a remarkable evolutionary divergence from other bacteria and thus it is perhaps not surprising that the vast majority of the B. burgdorferi genome encodes proteins of yet unknown functions. To advance our knowledge of microbial pathogenesis, we have characterized a select set of structurally unique B. burgdorferi gene-products that act as novel virulence determinants and support spirochete infection. Our most recent studies uncovered a unique innate immune evasion strategy of B. burgdorferi that is orchestrated by one of its cell surface proteins of unknown function, annotated as BBA57. We show the protein is highly induced during early mammalian infection and supports microbial persistence via evasion of a plethora of host microbicidal response. We also discovered a remarkable plasticity in such spirochete immune evasion strategy as even in its absence, B. burgdorferi still able to adapt and establish long-term infection. Understanding the fundamentals of spirochetal immune evasion mechanisms that ensures their host persistence is critical for the development of novel approaches to combat highly-prevalent vector-borne infections like Lyme borreliosis.