The body is constantly exposed to microbes in the air, on our skin and in our guts. Some of these microbes come from the environment and may be potentially infectious, while other microbes live normally on our mucosal surfaces (e.g., skin and guts) and may be important for health. The organisms that reside normally on our bodies are collectively called the "microbiome."
The Underhill Laboratory is interested in understanding how our immune systems interact with bacteria and fungi that may cause disease, and how the immune system distinguishes these organisms from those that make up the microbiome. Recent studies in the Underhill Laboratory have revealed that fungi in the intestinal microbiome have important, lasting effects on the immune system. The Underhill Lab is interested in identifying the fungi in the microbiome (the "mycobiota") and understanding how they change during disease
'"Innate immunity" is a term used to refer to the body’s immediate and natural response to exposure to a microbe. White blood cells, called macrophages, and dendritic cells have an innate capacity to recognize bacterial and fungal microbes as foreign. When these cells find foreign microbes, they become activated to "eat" and kill the organisms through a process called phagocytosis and become stimulated to orchestrate inflammatory responses. The Underhill Laboratory is involved in defining the genes and proteins required to mediate these responses and understanding how these responses are regulated during infections (e.g., Staphylococcus aureus infection) or diseases (e.g., inflammatory bowel disease).
Through understanding how macrophages and dendritic cells translate recognition of microbes into inflammatory responses, the Underhill Lab will be able to design targeted interventions to clinically manipulate these processes.