Gastrointestinal Infection and Inflammation

Mammalian hosts defend themselves from foreign insults through the actions of the innate and adaptive arms of the immune system. The innate immune system has been conserved throughout evolution and is now recognised to play key roles in host responses to infection. Research in our laboratory is broadly directed at understanding how the innate immune system responds to disease-causing micro-organisms and how these responses lead to disease, most notably in the digestive tract.

There are three major research themes in the laboratory. The first of these concerns the stomach bacterium, Helicobacter pylori, which is responsible for one of the most common infections in humans, affecting approximately half of the world’s population. H. pylori infection is a major cause of several diseases of the digestive tract in humans, including stomach cancer and peptic ulcer disease. A hallmark of H. pylori infection is the chronic inflammation (gastritis) that precedes these severe diseases. Our research is focused on understanding how and why H. pylori induces gastritis. The ultimate aim of these studies is to better understand the pathophysiology of the inflammatory processes that precede stomach cancer, a major cause of cancer-related mortality worldwide.

A second major theme in the laboratory is the study of a family of innate immune molecules within the cytoplasm of host cells. These molecules, known as the NOD-like receptors (NLRs), act as intracellular sensors of pathogens and trigger a range of inflammatory and immune responses to infection. Dysfunctional responses by NLR family members have been associated with a range of conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, diabetes and various cancers. We are currently investigating the roles of NLR proteins in the development of two forms of stomach cancer resulting from chronic H. pylori infection, one affecting epithelial cells (adenocarcinoma) and the other, characterised by excessive immune cell recruitment to the stomach (mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) lymphoma).

Lastly, our laboratory is studying the biology and immunology of membrane vesicles that are naturally released by bacteria. We have shown that these bacterial vesicles are highly efficient at entering host cells and triggering NLR signalling, thereby resulting in inflammation and cellular stress responses. Our research is directed at understanding the roles of bacterial membrane vesicles in infection.

Research Projects

h-pyloriListed below are a selection of research projects currently being undertaken in the laboratory:

  • Characterisation of the role of NLRs in cellular changes associated with stomach cancer
  • Regulation and biological functions of a new NLR family member that protects against MALT lymphoma
  • Identification of novel molecular and cellular pathways involved in the development of MALT lymphoma
  • Role of long non-coding RNAs in H. pylori infection
  • Transport by bacterial membrane vesicles of immunomodulatory molecules and genetic material into host cells and their effects on cellular functions



Research Group

Selected publications

  • Bitto NJ, Baker PJ, Dowling JK, Wray-McCann G, De Paoli A, Tran LS, Leung PL, Stacey KJ, Mansell A, Masters SL, Ferrero RL (2018) Membrane vesicles from Pseudomonas aeruginosa activate the noncanonical inflammasome through caspase-5 in human monocytes. Immunol Cell Biol 96:1120-1130. DOI: 10.1111/imcb.12190.

  • Tran LS, Tran D, De Paoli A, D’Costa K, Creed SJ, Ng GZ, Le L, Sutton P, Silke J, Nachbur U, Ferrero RL (2018) NOD1 is required for Helicobacter pylori induction of IL-33 responses in gastric epithelial cells. Cell Microbiol 20:e12826. DOI: 10.1111/cmi.12826.

  • Bitto NJ, Chapman R, Pidot S, Costin A, Lo C, Choi J, D’Cruze T, Reynolds EC, Dashper SG, Turnbull L, Whitchurch CB, Stinear TP, Stacey KJ, Ferrero RL (2017) Bacterial membrane vesicles transport their DNA cargo into host cells. Sci Rep 7:7072. DOI:10.1038/s41598-017-07288-4.

  • Baker PJ, De Nardo D, Moghaddas F, Tran LS, Bachem A, Nguyen T, Hayman T, Tye H, Vince JE, Bedoui S, Ferrero RL, Masters SL (2017) Posttranslational modification as a critical determinant of cytoplasmic innate immune recognition. Physiol Rev 97:1165-1209. DOI: 10.1152/physrev.00026.2016.

  • Irving AT, Mimuro H, Kufer TA, Lo C, Wheeler R, Turner LJ, Thomas BJ, Malosse C, Gantier MP, Casillas LN, Votta BJ, Bertin J, Boneca IG, Sasakawa C, Philpott DJ, Ferrero RL, Kaparakis-Liaskos M (2014) The immune receptor NOD1 and kinase RIP2 interact with bacterial peptidoglycan on early endosomes to promote autophagy and inflammatory signaling. Cell Host Microb 15:623-635. DOI: 10.1016/j.chom.2014.04.001.

  • Allison CC, Ferrand J, McLeod L, Hassan M, Kaparakis-Liaskos M, Grubman A, Bhathal PS, Dev A, Sievert W, Jenkins BJ, Ferrero RL (2013) Nucleotide oligomerization domain 1 enhances IFN-g signaling in gastric epithelial cells during Helicobacter pylori infection and exacerbates disease severity.  J Immunol 190:3706-3715. DOI: 10.4049/jimmunol.1200591.

  • Grubman A, Kaparakis M, Viala J, Allison C, Badea L, Karrar A, Boneca IG, Le Bourhis L, Reeve S, Smith IA, Hartland EL, Philpott DJ, Ferrero RL (2010) The innate immune molecule, NOD1, regulates direct killing of Helicobacter pylori by antimicrobial peptides. Cell Microbiol 12:626-639. DOI: 10.1111/j.1462-5822.2009.01421.x.

  • Kaparakis M, Turnbull L, Carneiro L, Firth S, Coleman HA, Parkington HC, Le Bourhis L, Karrar A, Viala J, Mak J, Hutton ML, Davies JK, Crack PJ, Hertzog PJ, Philpott DJ, Girardin SE, Whitchurch CB, Ferrero RL (2010) Bacterial membrane vesicles deliver peptidoglycan to NOD1 in epithelial cells. Cell Microbiol 12:372-385. DOI: 10.1111/j.1462-5822.2009.01404.x.

  • Allison CC, Kufer TA, Kremmer E, Kaparakis M, Ferrero RL (2009) Helicobacter pylori induces MAPK phosphorylation and AP-1 activation via a NOD1-dependent mechanism. J Immunol 183:8099-8109. DOI: 10.4049/jimmunol.0900664.

  • Fritz JH, Le Bourhis L, Sellge G, Magalhaes JG, Fsihi H, Kufer TA, Collins C, Viala J, Ferrero RL, Girardin SE, Philpott DJ (2007) Nod1-mediated innate immune recognition of peptidoglycan contributes to the onset of adaptive immunity. Immunity 26:445-459.

  • Viala J, Chaput C, Boneca IG, Cardona A, Girardin SE, Moran AP, Athman R, Mémet S, Huerre MR, Coyle AJ, DiStefano PS, Sansonetti PJ, Labigne A, Bertin J, Philpott DJ, Ferrero RL (2004) Nod1 responds to peptidoglycan delivered by the Helicobacter pylori cag pathogenicity island. Nat Immunol 5:1166-1174.