Matthew B. Lawrenz, Ph.D.

Matthew B. Lawrenz, Ph.D.

General Research Interests

  • Host-pathogen interactions

  • Identification of bacterial virulence factors

  • Regulation of virulence factors in bacteria

Specific Research Topics:Yersiniaand the role of autotransporters during infection

The genusYersiniacontains three pathogenic species that cause human infection. Two of these species,Y. enterocoliticaandY. pseudotuberculosis, are transmitted by contaminated food or water to cause yersiniosis.Y. pestisis responsible for a significantly more deadly disease known as the plague.Y. pestishas recently evolved fromY. pseudotuberculosisto be transmitted to mammalian hosts by an insect vector (the flea).Y. pestiscan also be transmitted from person to person by aerosols. Because of the ability forY. pestisto infect people through aerosols, the lack of an effective vaccine, and the history of development ofY. pestisas a potential bioweapon,Y. pestisis classified by the federal government as a Select Agent.

Autotransporters are the largest group of secreted proteins in bacteria. These proteins are found primarily in pathogenic Gram-negative bacteria, and many have been linked to virulence in these pathogens.Y. pestishas 10 conventional autotransporters encoded in its genome. We have demonstrated that one of these autotransporters, YapE, is required for efficient colonization of the mammalian host. Furthermore, YapE has adhesive properties that promote interactions between bacteria and other bacteria and between bacteria and host cells. We are interested in further defining the role of YapE during plague infection. We are actively studying differences in the infection process by aY. pestis yapEmutant and analyzing the mechanisms used by the bacterium to regulate the expression of YapE during infection. On the host side, we are defining the differences in the immune response generated towards theyapEmutant compared to wild typeY. pestisinfection and identifying the host receptor that YapE binds to.

YapE is also the only autotransporter conserved inY. pestis, Y. pseudotuberculosisandY. enterocolitica. Because of the role of this protein duringY. pestisinfection, my lab is also interested in determining if YapE contributes to infection by the other two species. Furthermore, we are interested in the examining the impact of evolution on YapE functions asY. pestishas diverged from the other two Yersinia species.

In my laboratory, students will be exposed to techniques used to understand host-pathogen interactions. Opportunities are available to study pathogenesis from both the perspective of the bacterium and/or the host. Examples of techniques that will be learned and applied by students in the lab include:

  • using molecular biology to generate bacterial mutants
  • analyzing gene regulation mechanisms inYersiniausing classical genetics and RNA-based technologies (RT-PCR, microarray analysis)
  • using infection models to determine the impact of putative virulence factors on disease and to understand the immune response directed towardsYersinia
  • using cell culture to study specific interactions between bacteria and host cells

Selected publications

  1. M.B. Lawrenz, J.M. Pennington, and V.L. Miller. 2013. Acquisition of omptin reveals cryptic virulence function of autotransporter YapE inYersinia pestis. Mol Microbiol. doi: 10.1111/mmi.12273. [Epub ahead of print].
  2. Sun, Y., M.G. Connor, J.M. Pennington, andM.B. Lawrenz. 2012. Development of bioluminescent bioreporters for in vitro and in vivo tracking ofYersinia pestis. PLoS One. 7(10):e47123. PMID: 23071730.

  3. Lenz, J. D.,M. B., Lawrenz, D. G. Cotter, M. C. Lane, R. J. Gonzalez, M. Palacios,  and V. L. Miller. 2011. Expression during host infection and localization ofYersinia pestisautotransporter proteins (Yaps). J Bacteriol. 193(21):5936-49.
  4. Weening, E. H.,  J. S. Cathelyn, G. Kaufman,M. B. Lawrenz, P. Price, W. E. Goldman, and V. L. Miller. 2011. Dependence ofYersinia pestiscapsule for pathogenesis is influenced by mouse background. Infect Immun. 79(2):644-52.

  5. M.B. Lawrenz. 2010. Model systems to study plague pathogenesis and develop new therapeutics. Front. Microbio. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2010.00119.

  6. Lawrenz, M. B., J. D.  Lenz, and V. L. Miller.  2009. A novel autotransporter adhesin is required for bubonic plague.  Infect. Immun. 77(1):317-326.
  7. Felek, S.,M. B. Lawrenz, and E. S. Krukonis. 2008. TheYersinia pestisautotransporter YapC mediates host cell binding, autoaggregation, and biofilm formation. Microbiology. 154 (Pt 6): 1802-1812.
  8. Lawrenz, M. B.and V. L. Miller. 2007. Comparative analysis of the regulation ofrovAfrom the pathogenicYersiniae. J. Bacteriol. 189 (16): 5963-5975.
  9. Ellison D. W.,M. B. Lawrenz, and V. L. Miller. 2004. Invasin and beyond: regulation ofYersiniavirulence byrovA. Trends Microbiol. 12 (6): 296-300.