Martha Zúñiga

Martha Zuniga Professor of MCD Biology
B. A., University of Texas at Austin
Ph.D., Yale University

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The Zuniga lab is interested in the regulation of immune responses in health and disease. Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) molecules (called HLA molecules in humans) present self, tumor, and pathogen-derived antigens to the T cells. The presentation of MHC molecules in different cellular contexts is of paramount importance in determining immune responsiveness versus tolerance. One major project in the lab focuses on mechanisms of immunological tolerance to cutaneous antigens. We have found that skin-derived regulatory T cells can induce tolerance to skin grafts that otherwise would be expected to be rejected. A new project in the lab addresses another possible regulatory mechanism during immune responses to skin transplants, that is, epithelial cell-derived exosomes. We are testing the hypothesis that skin-derived exosomes deliver MHC class I molecules and antigens to lymphoid tissue and thus sculpt immune responses.

We are particularly interested in epithelial cell-derived exosomes because human papilloma viruses, which cause cervical cancer, infect epithelial cells. In another new project, a collaboration with the Haussler lab, we will use genomic, immunological, and cell biology tools to identify genetic sequences that predispose to, or conversely, protect from inflammatory autoimmune diseases, such as ankylosing spondylitis. In a collaboration with dermatologists we are establishing a system to study the role of ionizing radiation in predisposition of human skin to melanoma. This project examines the effect of ionizing radiation on the integrity of the cutaneous immune system and on the expression of genes implicated in early molecular events leading to the development of melanoma.

Please follow this link to find the lab's publications in the National Library of Medicine's PubMed database.