The Martinez Lab’s research program is focused on the study of vector-borne rickettsial diseases and host-pathogen interactions. The Gram-negative α-proteobacteria of the genus Rickettsia are small (0.3-0.5 x 0.8-1.0 μm), obligate intracellular organisms. These bacteria are transmitted by tick bite inoculation into the skin of the human host and can ultimately damage target endothelial cells especially in the lungs and brain leading to the most severe manifestations of disease, including pulmonary edema and interstitial pneumonia. Although infections are controlled by broad-spectrum antibiotic therapies, untreated or misdiagnosed Mediterranean spotted fever (MSF), Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) and other spotted fever infections can result in severe morbidity and mortality. Laboratory efforts are currently aimed at the following research interests: a) characterization of host cell lipid metabolic and catabolic pathways that are utilized by obligate intracellular bacteria to fulfill nutritional requirements; b) elucidation of pro-survival and anti-apoptotic pathways utilized by Rickettsia species to establish replicative intracellular niches; c) continued elucidation of the roles of conserved outer-membrane proteins spotted fever group Rickettsia species in the interaction with endothelial cells, monocytes, macrophages and other mammalian target cells; d) continued identification of mammalian receptors for pathogenic SFG Rickettsia species.
What happens when bacterial infections stop responding to traditional antibiotic treatments? That scenario might sound like the plot of a blockbuster movie, but it is also the question pathobiological researcher Juan Martinez is trying to answer.