The research objectives of the Zhong lab are to understand the mechanisms of microbial interactions with their host tissues so that strategies can be developed for manipulating the microbial interactions to benefit human health. We have been using the obligate intracellular bacterium Chlamydia to interact with host reproductive and gastrointestinal tract tissues as models to map chlamydial virulence/colonization factors and protective antigens and to determine host pathways/effectors involved in the interactions.
Specific ongoing projects include: 1) Investigating whether and how the genital chlamydial spreading into the gastrointestinal tract can impact chlamydial induction of fibrosis in the upper genital tract. 2) Understanding the molecular mechanisms by which the gastrointestinal chlamydia-induced immunity protects against subsequent chlamydial challenge infections in extra-gut tissues but without affecting chlamydial colonization in the gut. 3) Investigating the impacts of gut microbiota on extra-gut tissue pathologies. 4) Developing Chlamydia as an intracellular oral delivery vehicle.